The first of 20 individuals indicted in 2011 on charges of buying high-powered firearms in Arizona to be used by Mexican drug gangs was sentenced Monday in San Diego federal court to 57 months in prison.
Danny Cruz Morones, 24, of Phoenix is the first of the so-called Fast and Furious defendants to be sentenced. He pleaded guilty to acting as a "straw purchaser"of weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, and to recruiting others to buy the weapons.
The cases were shifted to San Diego after the U.S. attorney's office in Phoenix recused itself because of its ties to the local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office.
FULL COVERAGE: ATF's Fast and Furious scandal
Fast and Furious was a failed gun-tracking operation run out of the ATF’s Phoenix field office from fall 2009 until January 2011. The idea was to allow weapons to be illegally sold in the U.S. so that they could be tracked over the border to Mexican drug cartels, and to arrest high-ranking members of the cartels. Most of the weapons vanished, however.
Two were recovered where a U.S. Border Patrol agent was shot and killed south of Tucson in December 2010 – leading to the quick shutdown of Fast and Furious. Other weapons from the program were found at crime scenes on both sides of the border.
Fast and Furious has been investigated by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Justice Department’s Inspector General. The DOJ’s inspector general’s report called the operation a "significant danger to public safety."
According to court documents, four AK-47s purchased by Morones were seized by Mexican military officers in Tijuana in September 2010. Also, six AK-47s purchased by someone that Morones recruited into the scheme were also seized.
Although the purchase of weapons is legal in Arizona, it is illegal to buy them for "shipment, transportation and/or exportation" to drug trafficking gangs and to lie on legally required purchase documents.
According to prosecutors, Morones bought 27 AK-47s. Also, two co-defendants that he recruited and assisted bought 69 AK-47s.
"Stopping the illegal purchase of firearms is critical to preventing violent crime in the United States and Mexico," U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy said.
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Photo: U.S. Atty. Laura Duffy holds a picture of slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in July. Credit: Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press