Four Southern California men have been arrested for selling assault weapons to an undercover operative, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced.
The arrests came after a joint investigation between the ATF and Los Angeles Police Department into guns being trafficked from Arizona to California that could be tied to a Mexican drug cartel.
During the course of the 10-month investigation, authorities purchased or seized 50 firearms, including 17 guns that were discovered during the execution of search warrants on July 31, according to the ATF.
"Many firearms were taken off the street that may have otherwise ended up in the hands of those determined to further their criminal activity," said Christopher Shaefer, acting special agent in ATF's Los Angeles field office.
During the investigation, an undercover operative made a series of gun purchases from three of the defendants. The purchases included guns similar to AK-47s, Uzis and AR-15s, some of which were fully automatic weapons.
Those arrested are: Edgardo Prado Casteneda, aka "Primo," 26, of Azusa, who claimed to be a Southern California operative of the La Familia drug cartel based in Michoacan, Mexico; Vicente Garcia Jr., aka "Chevy," 38, of Azusa; Steven Scott Blanks, 47, of Norco; and Victor Velasquez, aka "Fingers," 34, of El Monte, who is accused of delivering a quarter-pound of methamphetamine that was purchased by the undercover operative.
The arrests were the result of a collaborative effort between the Los Angeles Police Department, ATF and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, according to LAPD Captain Kevin McCarthy.
"By bringing together each agency's unique expertise, we were able to effectively and efficiently stop this firearm and drug trafficking ring," McCarthy added.
The arrests were made as Prado apparently made plans to collect a debt and possibly kidnap a man he said owed money to La Familia. Over the past several weeks, Prado allegedly had a series of conversations with the undercover operative about helping collect a large debt that a man owed to La Familia.
According to the affidavit, Prado told the informant that a boss in the cartel that he called "Cuete" had sent a courier to Mexico to transport narcotics, but the courier was arrested and provided information to Mexican authorities that led to the arrest of another high-ranking cartel member in Mexico City. As a result of this, "Cuete" owed the Cartel $3 million. If the informant participated in the collection of the debt, Prado promised him a share of money that would be paid by the cartel, according to an ATF release.
If convicted of the crimes alleged in the criminal complaint, the defendants would face maximum potential sentences of at least 10 years in prison.