Prison Term in Guns Case Tied to Agent’s Killing

by FERNANDA SANTOS, The New York Times  |  published on December 14, 2012

Brian A. Terry

A man who bought two weapons found at the scene of a Border Patrol agent’s killing and subsequently linked to the botched gun-trafficking investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious was sentenced here on Wednesday to 57 months in federal prison, closing another chapter in a case that ignited a political firestorm.

The man, Jaime Avila Jr., bought 52 guns over several months, including powerful assault and sniper rifles, which Judge James A. Teilborg of Federal District Court called “weapons of war.”

As many as 2,000 guns were bought by straw buyers like Mr. Avila between 2009 and 2011 — in cash, from licensed merchants in and around Phoenix, and under the watchful eyes of agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The agents were supposed to keep track of the weapons, part of a plan to stem the flow of illegal guns into Mexico. Instead, weapons vanished into the hands of drug gangs; hundreds remain unaccounted for.

Mr. Avila, 25, was recruited in November 2009. He was, by many measures, an ideal candidate — a poorly educated young man with barely a stain on his criminal record (his only conviction had been for a misdemeanor), battling a $50-a-day drug habit. In court, his lawyer, Candice Shoemaker, pleaded for leniency, saying that Mr. Avila’s habit was “controlling his decisions” when he signed up to buy the weapons, for which he was paid $50 apiece.

Shane Harrigan, the assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, described a more significant role. Mr. Avila, he said, recruited others, including a cousin who brought in another buyer, who then drafted one other buyer into the ring. Altogether, they bought almost 90 guns, Mr. Harrigan said.

Agent Brian A. Terry of the Border Patrol was killed in December 2010 not far from the Mexican border, in the southern Arizona desert, 11 months after Mr. Avila had bought the rifles. Two of the rifles he bought were found at the scene, though investigators have not disclosed if the bullets that killed Agent Terry were fired by either of them.

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