By Robert Gray
EL PASO, Texas, April 10 (Reuters) - A U.S. Border Patrol
agent, accused of buying guns in the United States and smuggling
them to Mexico for use by drug cartels, must remain in jail
pending a detention hearing later this week, a U.S. Magistrate
Judge ruled on Tuesday.
Ricardo Montalvo, 28, and his girlfriend Carla
Gonzales-Ortiz, 29, briefly appeared in court for the first time
since their arrest on Monday. They are charged with conspiracy
to buy firearms and more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition to be
smuggled into Mexico.
They are accused of acting as "straw purchasers" of at least
nine firearms between November 2010 and January 2011. Straw
purchasers say they are purchasing weapons for themselves but
conceal the true buyer.
A grand jury indictment accuses Montalvo and Gonzales-Ortiz
of purchasing guns, including five AK-47-type pistols, two
.380-caliber pistols, and two .22-caliber rifles. The guns are
favored by Mexican drug cartels, the indictment says.
The pair are accused of purchasing more than 20,000 rounds
of ammunition, 97 high-capacity magazines and four 37mm flair
guns, which are sought by Mexican cartels for conversion into
grenade launchers, the indictment says.
The indictment does not say if the weapons were actually
smuggled into Mexico. Montalvo, who is based in El Paso, Texas,
had been on administrative desk duty since January 2011 when the
Mexican cartels rely on purchases of firearms in the United
States and the Mexican government has often complained about the
smuggling across the border.
The arrest of Montalvo and Gonzales-Ortiz came only days
after three men pleaded guilty to charges of trafficking
high-powered rifles and other guns to Mexico from Arizona under
the botched "Fast and Furious" federal sting operation.
Republicans have criticized President Barack Obama's
administration for allowing the Fast and Furious program - under
which a government agency permitted weapons smuggling across the
border in order to try to nab the criminals in a sting
The failed operation embarrassed the administration and led
to some calls for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign.
Montalvo and Gonzales-Ortiz will be arraigned at a hearing
on Friday, said Terri Abernathy, senior litigation counsel.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)
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