Arizona gun shop owner gets 6 years for selling weapons to Mexican drug cartels

By Ray Downs  |  March 20, 2018 at 12:30 AM
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March 19 (UPI) -- A former federal firearms dealer was sentenced to 78 months in prison for a scheme that involved stealing identities to buy guns and then selling them to Mexican drug cartels.

Timothy Alan Veninga, 48, of Tucson, Ariz., previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States, aiding and abetting false statements in firearms transactions, false statements to government agency, tampering, and identity theft. He will also forfeit more than $61,000, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona said Monday.

Veninga's scheme was carried out with the help of former Tucson police officer, Joe Valles, who was sentenced to 78 months in prison last year.

Veninga owned a gun store in Tucson and Valles ran a gun-painting side gig on the premises. But the pair had another side gig going that involved paying individuals to be straw buyers and leaving the date and firearm information section blank on the federal forms. Veninga and Valle also used stolen identities for the forms, which Valle obtained through his work as a police officer.

After creating false identities for the gun purchases, prosecutors found Veninga and Valle sold 31 firearms to Mexican drug cartels, including 24 semi-automatic pistols of varying calibers and seven rifles. Among the rifles were one semi-automatic assault rifle, one semi-automatic high-capacity rifle and two .50 caliber semi-automatic rifles.

According to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, more than 73,000 guns that were seized in Mexico between 2009 and 2014 were traced back to the United States.

"While guns seized in Mexico of U.S. origin were traced to all of the 50 states, most came from Texas, California, and Arizona" the Government Accountability Office said in a report.

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