Gun dealer in NM smuggling conspiracy gets 5 years

May 24, 2012 - 4:55 PM

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The dealer who supplied a border town smuggling ring that shipped nearly 200 guns to Mexican drug cartels was handed a five-year prison sentence Thursday along with a stern lecture.

"It's time to say 'basta!, enough!," federal judge Judge Robert Brack said to defendant Ian Garland.

"There is a war in Mexico and the war machine requires fuel," the judge said. "This conspiracy was happy to supply that fuel. What made my decision was that in this terrible supply chain, that link was you."

Gun dealer Ian Garland was the second of 14 people charged in the Columbus, N.M.-based conspiracy to be sentenced. All have pleaded guilty.

Other defendants include former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega, former Mayor Eddie Espinoza and former trustee Blas Gutierrez.

Mario Ortiz, Garland's lawyer, pushed for a lesser sentence, saying that despite his guilty plea, Garland thought the guns were for Gutierrez, to whom he had sold guns in the past after performing mandatory background checks.

Ortiz said Garland was blinded by the fact that Gutierrez was an elected official and that he and other codefendants would show up in a police car that belonged to the city of Columbus.

"He knew the guns were for Gutierrez, and Gutierrez was allowed to purchase guns but couldn't come pick them up... so he thought 'I'll help you a little bit, you are my client'," Ortiz said.

In total, Garland sold 193 firearms to Gutierrez and his associates, many of them assault rifles or submachine guns. Federal prosecutors say some of the guns sold by Garland have shown up at murder scenes and drug seizures south of the border.

Nathan Lichvarcik, the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, called Garland a "dirty gun dealer motivated by greed ... the bottomless fountain of firearms for this conspiracy."

Garland, who ran his gun shop out of his house in Chaparral, a town on the Texas-New Mexico border about two and a half hours from Columbus, was the main provider of guns for the group.

"I did what I did, I am responsible for my actions," Garland told the judge before hearing the sentence. "I just worry a lot, for my family, we're losing the house," he said. Garland also explained that the reason he had traveled on numerous occasions to Mexico was to purchase cheap prescription medicine for his wife, who has cancer.

Blas Gutierrez could face up to 280 years in prison after pleading guilty last year to 19 counts of gun smuggling, 17 counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and one count of conspiracy.

Espinoza could face up to 65 years in prison for guilty pleas on one count of conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and three counts of smuggling firearms.

Vega could face up to 35 years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy, smuggling and public corruption charges.