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Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Hilton Adorno-Rosario,Marilyn Quinones-Burgos, Largest gun-trafficking case in decades.

Investigators predicted "Operation Tropical Firepower," as the investigation is known, will expand and link up to 800 weapons to more than a dozen suspects arrested this week and others still at large. Already, it is the region's largest gun-trafficking case in decades.
"Today's arrests of multiple firearms traffickers in Florida and Puerto Rico is the culmination of two and half years of dedication and hard work," said Virginia O'Brien, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' top agent in Tampa. "We will continue to work closely with our law-enforcement partners to prosecute anyone who provides firearms to violent criminals."
Court records describe the gun-smuggling ring in almost the same phrases used in more than a dozen previous gun-running cases involving Puerto Rico since the early 1990s. One of the most notorious cases, last year, involved Orlando International Airport workers who routinely foiled Homeland Security measures by placing guns and drugs on passenger flights to San Juan.The trade exists largely because Puerto Rico has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. On the island, for instance, gun owners must be able to account for every bullet they buy if questioned by police. At the same time, Florida laws are some of the nation's least restrictive.
Semiautomatic versions of the AK-47 assault rifle, which sell for as little as $350 in Orlando, command $2,000 on the black market in Puerto Rico, according to police and federal court records.Investigators say the black-market buyers are typically drug gangs, whose members are responsible for some of the worst violent crimes per capita in the United States. The island commonwealth is a major port of entry for cocaine and heroin shipped from Colombia to the U.S. mainland.The indictment issued in Tampa states that at least 15 suspects from Puerto Rico flew to Florida from 2004 through March 2007 to obtain state identification cards. Once they had drivers licenses, sometimes with false information, they fanned out across the state from Miami to Jacksonville to buy AK-47s, AR-15s and handguns.In the Orlando area, the gun shops they frequented included Shoot Straight in Apopka, Shoot Straight II in Casselberry, and two Orlando stores, Central Florida Firearms and Reig's Gun Shop.
Characterized by law-enforcement officers as "Smurfs" -- for displaying hardworking habits similar to those of the TV cartoon characters -- the suspects bought multiple weapons from several gun shops on a single day."They were going from gun show to gun show, federal firearm licensee to federal firearm licensee, buying whatever they can," said U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill in Tampa. "They were buying small amounts [in each deal], but at the end of the day, you have a lot of guns."O'Neill described the 15 arrested so far -- including six picked up early Tuesday in Puerto Rico and two more already held there on other charges -- as low-level players. He said investigators are building a case to determine who was behind the operation.
Florida gun stores impose no waiting period or limit on the number of assault weapons people can buy in a single day. Handgun buyers who have a state concealed weapon permit can take home a gun purchase immediately. Those without a permit must wait three days.There are no limits on private sales at gun shows.
On Aug. 18, 2005, the indictment states, Hilton Adorno-Rosario, 26, flew to Orlando on a Delta flight from San Juan. Before the day ended he bought 12 pistols from three Orlando-area shops and then left on a shopping trip through North Florida. While waiting for the Orlando pistols' three-day waiting period to expire, records show Adorno-Rosario bought 11 AK-47s in Jacksonville before heading back to Orlando.
That same summer, records show another suspect bought 27 assault rifles from Take Aim Guns in Palm Harbor. Then 21 years old, Jonathan Robles-Cruz bought as many as 10 at a time, records state."In return, the co-conspirators would receive money and illegal drugs as payment for the firearms," according to a written statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office. "The weapons of choice were AK-47 type assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns and AR-15-type firearms. Many of the firearms have been recovered from criminal investigations in Puerto Rico while other firearms were recovered in Orlando, Tampa and Winter Haven."The indictment states the suspects routinely rented apartments or rooms, including one in a Motel 8 on Americana Way in Orlando, to store, wrap and ship the weapons to Puerto Rico.
Marilyn Quinones-Burgos, one of two women arrested so far, is accused on March 6, 2007, of wrapping aluminum foil around five guns and hiding them in a cosmetic case, then taking the package to a U.S. Post Office and mailing it to ring members on the island.
Quinones-Burgos and the others arrested are being held in jails in Puerto Rico and Florida. They are charged with gun trafficking and face up to 25 years in federal prison.
Besides ATF, the U.S. Postal Service and the Puerto Rico Police Department took part in the investigation.



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