Phoenix – The man who purchased two rifles found at the scene of the fatal shooting of border patrol agent Brian Terry has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison.
On Wednesday Jaime Avila Jr. received a sentence of 57 months, a penalty on the lower end of federal guidelines, for his acknowledged role in the gun-smuggling ring targeted in a botched federal investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Avila's attorney had pleaded for leniency, saying her client was deeply remorseful and had substance abuse problems.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a stiff penalty, saying Avila not only bought guns for drug cartels but also recruited others to do so.
The government's Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation allowed people suspected of illegally buying guns to walk away from gun shops with weapons rather than be arrested.
Operation Fast and Furious has drawn heavy criticism as agents lost track of hundreds of weapons, including two used in a shootout that killed Terry along the Arizona, México border in December 2010.
Authorities intended to track the guns into México. Two rifles found at the scene of Terry's shooting were bought by a member of the gun-smuggling ring being investigated.
Critics of the operation say any shooting along the border now raises the specter that those illegal weapons are still being used in border violence.
"There's no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we'll wonder for years if the guns used in any killing along the border were part of an ill-advised gun-walking strategy," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a statement.
The Terry family said that the shooting was a "graphic reminder of the inherent dangers that threaten the safety of those who live and work near the border."
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.