The Texas man who allegedly bought one of the guns used to kill a U.S. agent in Mexico had been under surveillance as a suspected gun trafficker for a Mexican drug cartel, federal officials said today.
Otilio Osorio, one of three men arrested Monday in East Lancaster, Texas, by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, allegedly bought the pistol in October 2010, before federal law enforcement became aware that he might be involved in gun-running for the drug cartels.
The criminal complaint and ATF affidavit in the case against Osorio, his brother Ranferi Osorio and Kelvin Morrison, which was released today, said Mexican authorities have made a series of arrests related to the agent's killing and seized three firearms used in the attack.
"One of these firearms recovered is described as a Romaem-Cugir, model Draco, 7.62 pistol with an obliterated serial number," the affidavit said. "The firearm was traced by ATF to Otilio Osorio. ... Ballistic testing conducted on this firearm indicated that it was one of the three firearms used during the deadly assault on ICE Special Agent Zapata's vehicle."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was killed Feb. 15, when his SUV was forced off the road between Monterrey and Mexico City, allegedly by a group of Zeta gunmen. Zapata and his partner were on official business at the time of the attack.
Two criminal complaints released today reveal that the Drug Enforcement Agency and ATF were tracking the Osorios in November 2010 as part of an investigation into the Zeta drug cartel and their efforts to acquire weapons in the United States to send them to Mexico.
According to the criminal complaint, an ATF confidential informant met with the Osorio brothers on Nov. 9, 2010, along Interstate 35 to obtain guns from them.
"The [confidential informant] spoke with the suspects as the guns were being loaded and clearly established that the suspects knew the firearms were being trafficked to Mexico," the complaint said.
After the meeting, the informant's vehicle was stopped and searched before crossing the U.S.-Mexican border in Laredo, Texas.
Agents recovered 40 firearms including pistols, an AK-47 style rife and a shotgun, and the serial numbers used to track the guns had been obliterated, according to the complaint.
Local police used a mock traffic stop of the Osorios' car after the gun sale to identify them and a third individual, who was allegedly Morrison.
The Osorio brothers were charged with possessing firearms with obliterated serial numbers; Morrison, their next door neighbor, was charged with making false statements and dealing in firearms without a license.
According to the criminal complaint, Morrison allegedly acknowledged during an interview with the ATF that he made numerous "straw purchases" going back to July 2010.
During the first incident Morrison allegedly said "he was approached by an unknown Hispanic male at a gun show. The individual asked Morrison if he wanted to make 'A little extra money.'"
According to the affidavit, Morrison allegedly purchased 2 AK-47s for $900 and provided false information on the ATF paperwork that asked if he was the actual purchaser to own the weapons.
Morrison allegedly told investigators he made numerous straw purchase transactions at subsequent gun shows.
The ATF recently proposed regulations to track multiple sales of guns in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California to look for possible straw purchasers, but the effort was blocked by the House of Representatives last month.
Attorney General Eric Holder told the House Appropriations Committee today that he supports for the proposed regulation.
"Those people who act as straw purchasers and who buy weapons in their own names, but then transfer them, sell them to people illegally for use in Mexico," he said. "That's one of the reasons that this ATF proposal is, I think, a good one."
He said that in the case of straw purchases, any individual transaction can appear to be legitimate and only when a pattern can be determined could a trafficker be caught.
"We don't know what the ultimate destination of that weapon might be," he said. "And to the extent that we can look for multiple sales within a relatively short period of time and along the border, those border states, I think we are focusing our attention in an appropriate way, respectful of the constitutional rights that American citizens have to purchase and to hold weapons, while at the same time trying to meet the obligations that we have to our very valiant Mexican neighbors who have lost substantial numbers of people."
Mexican authorities have also asked U.S. officials to increase enforcement on gun crimes in the United States.