SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A defendant in the government's botched gun-smuggling investigation, known as "Operation Fast and Furious," was sentenced to four years and seven months in federal prison for helping supply assault weapons to Mexican drug gangs.
Danny Cruz Morones, who appeared in court Monday, was the first of 20 defendants to be sentenced in connection with the operation, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The 24-year-old Phoenix man was accused of acting as an illegal "straw buyer" to obtain 27 AK-47s in Arizona that were destined for drug gangs. He also recruited two other people who bought 69 guns, prosecutors contended.
Morones pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to deal in firearms without a license, making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm, smuggling goods from the U.S. and selling guns without a license.
The case and others were transferred to San Diego after the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix recused itself, citing ties to the local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office.
Under the ATF office in Phoenix was the base for Operation Fast and Furious. Federal agents allowed Morones and others to leave gun shops with the illegally purchased weapons because they wanted to track them to higher-ups and dismantle the network, a tactic known as "gun-walking."
The operation identified more than 2,000 illicitly purchased weapons but authorities lost track of many of them. Some were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico. Two were found at the scene of a December 2010 shooting south of Tucson that killed U.S. border agent Brian Terry.
The operation has been shut down but some 1,400 weapons have yet to be recovered.
A report by the Justice Department's inspector general called the operation "a significant danger to public safety."
The operation also prompted a dispute between the Obama administration and Congress. President Barack Obama has invoked executive privilege and the attorney general has been found in contempt of the House for refusing to turn over records that might explain what led the department to reverse course after initially denying that federal agents had used gun-walking.
A lawsuit by a Republican-led House committee is demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder produce records about the operation.
The Justice Department is seeking to have the suit dismissed. In court papers filed Monday night, the department argued that the Constitution does not permit the courts to resolve the political dispute between the executive branch and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
The political branches have a long history of resolving disputes over congressional requests without judicial intervention, the court filing said.
The failure of Holder and House Republicans to work out a deal on the documents led to votes in June that held the attorney general in civil and criminal contempt of Congress.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com