2 California Guard soldiers sentenced in plot to sell guns to Mexican cartel
By ALEX HORTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 6, 2016
SAN ANTONIO — Two California Army National Guardsmen were sentenced in federal court Monday following a scheme to sell weapons and Army-issued gear to an undercover agent posing as a buyer for a Mexican drug cartel.
Staff Sgt. Andrew Reyes, 34, and Spec. Jaime Casillas, 22, both of whom worked at the Army National Guard armory in El Cajon, outside San Diego, pleaded guilty in January to selling firearms without a license.
Reyes, with ten years of service in the Guard, had an additional three charges tacked on for transporting firearms without a license from Texas, according to a Department of Justice news release.
Reyes was sentenced to one year and a day in custody. He sold three AR-15 rifles and an AK-47 rifles to an undercover ATF agent, along with high capacity magazines for .223 ammunition between September 2014 and March 2015.
Casillas, with five years of service, sold one AR-15 rifle and a 40-caliber pistol in 2014, and was with Reyes on the last sale in 2015. He was sentenced to time served. Reyes and Casillas were assigned to C Troop 1st Squadron of the 18th Cavalry Regiment.
Both men said in a plea deal that they believed the undercover buyer worked for a Mexican drug cartel, and some of the guns sold to him were ‘hot’— with serial numbers obliterated indicated they were stolen or used in a crime, the news release stated.
Some items were military issue that Reyes and Casillas acquired in the Guard, and they were in uniform for at least one meeting, the news release stated.
Court records filed in April 2015 stated Casillas sold 1,500 rounds of .223 of military-issued ammunition to the agent and Reyes sold the agent two issued vests with ballistic plates, known as SAPIs, alongside more than a dozen high-capacity rifle magazines.
Additional charges related to the gear and ammunition sales were dropped in the plea deal.
“Casillas and Reyes’ conduct surpassed mere exploitation of military resources, and advanced to providing armaments usually reserved for law enforcement and combat personnel to individuals they believed were members of organized crime operating in the United States and Mexico,” Eric D. Harden, the special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said in a January news release.
The episode is the latest in a series of Guardsmen charged with smuggling people and weapons along the 2,000-mile-long border with Mexico, where troops are sought by cartel members for their access to weapons and identification that can move them swiftly through checkpoints with relatively less suspicion.
An active duty soldier at Fort Hood in Texas was sentenced to federal prison in 2015 after he was caught smuggling two Mexicans into the United States with former soldiers also stationed at Fort Hood, a Justice Department news release stated.
Three soldiers with the Texas National Guard were charged in 2007 with smuggling 24 migrants in a packed van. The ringleader, Julio Cesar Pacheco, was sentenced to 40 months in prison, according to news reports.