PHOENIX -- A federal judge sentenced a Phoenix man Wednesday to nearly five years in prison for purchasing firearms for a Mexican drug cartel, triggering a chain of events which included the death of an elite Border Patrol agent and the unraveling of a failed federal gun-tracking operation called Fast and Furious.
Jaime Avila Jr., 25, was a “straw purchaser” of weapons, including two firearms found at the scene of the death of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry. He was killed two years ago this week.
At the hearing Wednesday, a cousin of Terry spoke for the slain agent's family, asking the judge to make an example of Avila. Terry's parent did not attend the hearing.
"We believe that Mr. Avila initiated a deadly domino effect when he illegally bought those weapons and then delivered them to people who would ultimately put them in the hands of Brian's killers," the cousin, Robert Heyer, said, reading from a prepared statement.
Heyer then addressed Federal Judge James A. Teilborg. "Judge Teilborg, you have the ability to send a message to anyone who is thinking about becoming a straw buyer of weapons," he said.
In turn, Avila's attorney pleaded with Teilborg to give her client a lighter sentence, saying that he was remorseful and only dabbled in drug running to feed his methamphetamine addiction.
"At the point that Mr. Avila became aware of his of connection to the incident I think he was shocked and dismayed.... He had no idea his behavior would lead to such great lengths," defense attorney Candice Shoemaker told Teilborg.
Avila was one of about 20 straw buyers that were the focus of an investigation conducted by the Phoenix office of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The investigation allowed weapons to be illegally sold in the United States so they could later be tracked across the border to Mexico to drug cartels there. The intent was to arrest cartel leaders, but most of the firearms disappeared.
Two of those weapons were found at the scene of a shoot-out that killed Terry just south of Tucson on Dec. 14, 2010. The death led to the shutdown of Fast and Furious. Later, weapons linked to the operation were found tied to criminal cases on both sides of the border. The botched investigation led to an outcry and has had political implications, including the stepping down of federal leaders linked to "Fast and Furious."
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