El Paso, Texas – A U.S. Border Patrol agent and his girlfriend are in custody on charges of conspiring to buy firearms and ammunition and smuggle them to criminal gangs in Mexico, according to court documents.
Ricardo Montalvo, 28, and Carla González-Ortiz, 29, were arrested Monday after a federal grand jury sitting in the El Paso Division of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas handed down a 20-count indictment.
Montalvo and González-Ortiz are accused of acting as intermediaries to purchase nine firearms, including AK-47 assault rifles, as well as about 100 high-capacity ammunition clips and tens of thousands of high-caliber bullets they knew were bound for Mexican drug cartels.
Spokespersons for the U.S. Border Patrol's El Paso sector confirmed that the agent had worked since 2005 at the Ysleta substation.
Montalvo and his girlfriend, a Mexican citizen and permanent legal resident of the United States, could be sentenced to up to 10 years behind bars if convicted.
The indictment covers a three-month period in which Montalvo, González-Ortiz and other buyers allegedly acquired nine firearms that they claimed were for their own use.
The agent also allegedly made illegal "straw" purchases of around 20,000 rounds of ammunition and 97 high-capacity ammunition clips that are in high demand by Mexican drug cartels.
This is the second case in the past several weeks in which public officials have been implicated in weapons smuggling to Mexican drug cartels.
In March, the mayor and chief of police of Columbus, New Mexico, were arrested on similar charges.
President Felipe Calderón's administration says the United States is largely responsible for high levels of drug-related violence in Mexico, citing the high demand for illegal drugs in that country and the cross-border flow of weapons to the violent cartels.
Mexico was especially angered by revelations about a U.S. federal undercover sting that allowed nearly 2,000 weapons to be smuggled into Mexico by straw purchasers allegedly working for drug cartels.
That operation, known as Fast and Furious, was launched in 2009 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Phoenix office and shut down in late 2010 after guns traced to the program were linked to the killing in Arizona of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
President Barack Obama's administration has vehemently denied any involvement in Fast and Furious and said it only learned about the operation after it was shut down.
The idea behind Fast and Furious was to trace the weapons to powerful drug traffickers in Mexico, but once it got underway ATF agents realized they had no dependable way to keep track of the guns, which eventually began appearing at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
Guns traced to Fast and Furious appeared at more than 100 crime scenes in Mexico and two were found at the location where Border Patrol agent Terry was killed in December 2010 while trying to arrest a group of armed suspects.
Turf battles among drug cartels and clashes between mobsters and security forces have left some 50,000 dead in Mexico since Calderón took office in late 2006.