Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

U.S. Is Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels

Posted in guns, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 26, 2009
Officials say weapons from George Iknadosian’s store in Phoenix ended up in the hands of a cartel that included Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, right.(Left, A.T.F; right, Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Officials say weapons from George Iknadosian’s store in Phoenix ended up in the hands of a cartel that included Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, right.(Left, A.T.F; right, Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Note from Allison: I love how the conversation regarding Mexico’s political and social volatility is never framed as a problem with guns and/or the War on Drugs. Our policies on arms and a failing drug war are just fine. Those crazy Mexicans just need to get their acts together and figure out a bureaucratically corrupt system where corporations operate on the backs of the poor like we have in the good ole’ U S of A, and they’ll be a world power in no time!

New York Times

PHOENIX — The Mexican agents who moved in on a safe house full of drug dealers last May were not prepared for the fire power that greeted them.

When the shooting was over, eight agents were dead. Among the guns the police recovered was an assault rifle traced back across the border to a dingy gun store here called X-Caliber Guns.

Now, the owner, George Iknadosian, will go on trial on charges he sold hundreds of weapons, mostly AK-47 rifles, to smugglers, knowing they would send them to a drug cartel in the western state of Sinaloa. The guns helped fuel the gang warfare in which more than 6,000 Mexicans died last year.

Mexican authorities have long complained that American gun dealers are arming the cartels. This case is the most prominent prosecution of an American gun dealer since the United States promised Mexico two years ago it would clamp down on the smuggling of weapons across the border. It also offers a rare glimpse of how weapons delivered to American gun dealers are being moved into Mexico and wielded in horrific crimes.

“We had a direct pipeline from Iknadosian to the Sinaloa cartel,” said Thomas G. Mangan, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.

Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

The ease with which Mr. Iknadosian and two other men transported weapons to Mexico over a two-year period illustrates just how difficult it is to stop the illicit trade, law enforcement officials here say.

The gun laws in the United States allow the sale of multiple military-style rifles to American citizens without reporting the sales to the government, and the Mexicans search relatively few cars and trucks going south across their border.

What is more, the sheer volume of licensed dealers — more than 6,600 along the border alone, many of them operating out of their houses — makes policing them a tall order. Currently the A.T.F. has about 200 agents assigned to the task.

Smugglers routinely enlist Americans with clean criminal records to buy two or three rifles at a time, often from different shops, then transport them across the border in cars and trucks, often secreting them in door panels or under the hood, law enforcement officials here say. Some of the smuggled weapons are also bought from private individuals at gun shows, and the law requires no notification of the authorities in those cases.

“We can move against the most outrageous purveyors of arms to Mexico, but the characteristic of the arms trade is it’s a ‘parade of ants’ — it’s not any one big dealer, it’s lots of individuals,” said Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, who is prosecuting Mr. Iknadosian. “That makes it very hard to detect because it’s often below the radar.”

The Mexican government began to clamp down on drug cartels in late 2006, unleashing a war that daily deposits dozens of bodies — often gruesomely tortured — on Mexico’s streets. President Felipe Calderón has characterized the stream of smuggled weapons as one of the most significant threats to security in his country. The Mexican authorities say they seized 20,000 weapons from drug gangs in 2008, the majority bought in the United States.

The authorities in the United States say they do not know how many firearms are transported across the border each year, in part because the federal government does not track gun sales and traces only weapons used in crimes. But A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.

In 2007, the firearms agency traced 2,400 weapons seized in Mexico back to dealers in the United States, and 1,800 of those came from dealers operating in the four states along the border, with Texas first, followed by California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Mr. Iknadosian is accused of being one of those dealers. So brazen was his operation that the smugglers paid him in advance for the guns and the straw buyers merely filled out the required paperwork and carried the weapons off, according to A.T.F. investigative reports. The agency said Mr. Iknadosian also sold several guns to undercover agents who had explicitly informed him that they intended to resell them in Mexico.

Mr. Iknadosian, 47, will face trial on March 3 on charges including fraud, conspiracy and assisting a criminal syndicate. His lawyer, Thomas M. Baker, declined to comment on the charges, but said Mr. Iknadosian maintained his innocence. No one answered the telephone at Mr. Iknadosian’s home in Glendale, Ariz.

A native of Egypt who spent much of his life in California, Mr. Iknadosian moved his gun-selling operation to Arizona in 2004, because the gun laws were more lenient, prosecutors said.

Over the two years leading up to his arrest last May, he sold more than 700 weapons of the kind currently sought by drug dealers in Mexico, including 515 AK-47 rifles and one .50 caliber rifle that can penetrate an engine block or bulletproof glass, the A.T.F. said.

Based on the store’s records and the statements of some defendants, investigators estimate at least 600 of those weapons were smuggled to Mexico. So far, the Mexican authorities have seized seven of the Kalashnikov-style rifles from gunmen for the Beltrán Leyva cartel who had battled with the police.

The store was also said to be the source for a Colt .38-caliber pistol stuck in the belt of a reputed drug kingpin, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, when he was arrested a year ago in the Sinaloan town of Culiacán. Also linked to the store was a diamond-studded handgun carried by another reputed mobster, Hugo David Castro, known as El Once, who was arrested in November on charges he took part in killing a state police chief in Sonora.

According to reports by A.T.F. investigators, Mr. Iknadosian sold more than 60 assault rifles in late 2007 and early 2008 to straw buyers working for two brothers — Hugo Miguel Gamez, 26, and Cesar Bojorguez Gamez, 27 — who then smuggled them into Mexico.

The brothers instructed the buyers to show up at X-Caliber Guns and to tell Mr. Iknadosian they were there to pick up guns for “Cesar” or “C,” the A.T.F. said. Mr. Iknadosian then helped the buyers fill out the required federal form, called the F.B.I. to check their records and handed over the rifles. The straw buyers would then meet one of the brothers to deliver the merchandise. They were paid $100 a gun.

The Gamez brothers have pleaded guilty to a count of attempted fraud. Seven of the buyers arrested last May have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and have agreed to testify against Mr. Iknadosian, prosecutors said.

In one transaction, Mr. Iknadosian gave advice about how to buy weapons and smuggle them to a person who turned out to be an informant who was recording him, according to a transcript. He told the informant to break the sales up into batches and never to carry more than two weapons in a car.

“If you got pulled over, two is no biggie,” Mr. Iknadosian is quoted as saying in the transcript. “Four is a question. Fifteen is, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

7 Responses

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  1. Athena said, on March 9, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Wow! I know George and I’ve been to his store many times. I would have never thought that he would be involved in something like this!

  2. allisonkilkenny said, on March 9, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    George is one of many stories, I’m sure. There needs to be strong regulation of arms, particularly when they’re sold in a border city, and could plausibly be sold to Mexican drug cartels.

  3. Hardball1911 said, on March 10, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    So, let me get this straight. You, Allison, are critical that corporations make money, and do so somehow off of ripping off the poor, yet, they make money, provide jobs for, uhm, the “poor people” and provide an influx of money into the economy based on the principles that profit margin is what pays the bills.

    If I read you correctly, you are bitter that corporations actually make a profit margin, which has nothing to do with your calling attention to an alleged criminal activity regarding the breaking of US Federal law, and yet you associate Mexico’s government as being out of step with the US because they don’t allow corporations to get rich off of the poor. Yeah, lay down the bong and grow up. Take an economics course or two and maybe even a law class or two so you can differentiate between someone who has broken the law, and someone who has provided people with a stable means of an income so that they can live their lifestyle as they see fit.

    The wealth envy trip, the anti-gun trip, all that tells me that you have a desire to see maybe a government run system providing you with all of your nice fancy things like a laptop to blog on, etc.? Sorry, but as soon as it happens the businesses that you deplore will cease making laptops, your Starbucks will be out of business, etc. and you will be stuck with your food tickets standing in line hoping that you reach the front before the items you need to live are all gone. Don’t know if you noticed that communism failed miserably only a few years ago?

  4. allisonkilkenny said, on March 10, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    You’re silly.

    If I read you correctly

    You didn’t. That’s where the problem started. I’m pointing out that Mexico’s economy is in shambles because of unfair trade policies largely implemented by the United States (NAFTA). The drug culture usually emerges from a systemic problem of poverty, and drugs are a lucrative cash crop.

    Lax gun laws in the United States permit guns to travel to Mexican drug cartels. Hence, lax gun laws result in arming very dangerous men that kill Mexican police officers.

    The War on Drugs is failing because it’s impossible to stop an influx of illegal drugs, and it’s a waste of time, money, and resources to try to lock up sick drug addicts.

    A failing War on Drugs, combined with lax drugs laws, equals the unstable American-Mexican border situation. Oh, that, and draconian attitudes toward immigration (another inevitability we can’t stop, but we keep tryin’ anyway).

    The rest of your rant is pretty silly. I don’t envy the wealthy. Nor, do I “hold the bong.” In fact, I’m a very happy, sober person as is. However, I do wish a lot of poor people’s lives could get better.

    Also, corporations can always behave in a more moral manner. They can make profits, while at the same time, defend the rights of their workers. In fact, a happy work force ensures a better, more efficient corporation. And if that business model can’t sustain itself (or remain profitable,) I always side with the workers. Because they’re human beings (and there’re many more workers than CEOs). If that means the upper 2% needs to be taxed a little more, so be it. That’s the only moral choice.

    It’s not Communism. It’s morality.

    Whew! I think that’s all the points you hit.

  5. Matthew Keith said, on April 7, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Movement of drugs and people are an inevitability, got to accept reality and go with the flow – check. I agree.
    But the same principle applies to guns, they’re a fact of life accept it, deal with it and formulate a set of pragmatic laws to regulate a legal trade in them rather than vainly trying to combat an underground trade.
    You Americans should make your drug laws more like your gun laws not vice versa.

  6. allisonkilkenny said, on April 7, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Except things we accept as commercial goods (guns, alcohol, etc.) actually kill far more people than drugs.

    I agree that drugs should be handled much more like guns: regulated, but legal.

  7. Matthew Keith said, on April 8, 2009 at 4:29 am

    Hopefully then, when the US eases off on this lunatic crusade which has done so much damage to our culture of civil rights then pressure on the rest of the world to will ease and countries will find their own way. But there are many vested interests in being “tough on drugs”.

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