MCALLEN–A Rio Grande Valley man and three others have been linked to a smuggling of arms, ammunition and protective gear to Mexico, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Juan Ricardo Puente-Paez, a legal permanent resident residing in Peñitas has been sentenced to 95 months in federal prison for the trafficking of firearms, ammunition and military vests as a result of an investigation that began in May 2010.
Puente-Paez, 34, pleaded guilty last February to the attempted exportation of military spec body armor vests before United States District Judge Micaela Alvarez.
Today, Judge Alvarez handed him the sentence and further ordered he serve three years of post-prison supervised release.
Federal agents conducted a traffic stop about two years ago on a vehicle heading into Mexico at the Hidalgo Port of Entry. The driver of the vehicle was identified Carlos Javier Paez-Renteria and his passenger as Puente-Paez.
During a search of the vehicle, agents found four military spec interceptor body armor vests. Neither men were arrested at that time.
Three others were also arrested during the investigation that netted large amounts of guns and ammo.
San Juan, Texas police officers conducted a traffic stop in January of last year on a vehicle as it left a residence on the 2700 block of Fern Street in San Juan.
The driver was again identified as Paez-Renteria. During a search of the vehicle, agents found 39 Max-Pro Police and Armor Level ballistic helmets and 24 pairs of original SWAT tactical boots.
Police officers then obtained consent to search the Fern Street residence, at which time agents discovered 29 more Max-Pro Police and Armor Level ballistic helmets, 36 more pairs of original SWAT tactical boots, one .22 caliber Mossberg International automatic rifle, 26 high-capacity AK type rifle magazines, 103 rounds of .223 caliber ammunition, 450 rounds of .22 caliber ammunition and 166 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.
The investigation revealed these items were going to be smuggled into Mexico.
Three months later, a pick-up truck driven by Alfonso Torres was stopped as it attempted to leave the United States at the Hidalgo International Bridge. During an inspection of the pick-up truck, agents found 11 semi-automatic rifles and 11 high-capacity rifle magazines.
San Juan police officers conducted another traffic stop two months later on a vehicle driven by Miguel Avendano-Reyna. During a search of the vehicle, agents found 1,700 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition.
The investigation again revealed the ammunition was going to be smuggled into Mexico.
Last month, Avendano-Reyna, 36, and Alfonso Torres, 42, were sentenced to 30 and 24 months in prison, respectively. Paez-Renteria, 22, is scheduled for sentencing on June 12.