Six men have been indicted on federal charges for allegedly being part of a scheme to smuggle weapons and ammunition to a violent Mexican cartel, officials announced Monday.
Four of the men were arrested Jan. 19 as part of Operation Infidelis, which targeted a weapons trafficking organization that worked with the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, known as one of the largest and violent drug cartels in Mexico.
The six defendants were charged with conspiring to violate federal export laws by illegally bringing the weapons and ammunition to cartel operatives in Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Officials allege Marco Antonio Santillan Valencia, 51, of Whittier, led the gun trafficking organization that used narcotics proceeds to purchase assault rifles, hundreds of thousands of rounds of assault rifle ammunition and machine gun parts and accessories. Some of those were then smuggled into Mexico, mostly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.
Additionally, a federal indictment charges the defendants in a conspiracy to violate export administration regulations that “restrict the export of items that could make a significant contribution to the military potential of other nations or that could be detrimental to the foreign policy or national security of the United States,” officials said. Five of the defendants also face various attempted smuggling counts.
Valencia and his son are charged in a money laundering conspiracy, and two of the defendants are charged with being felons in possession of ammunition.
The other defendants are:
• Anthony Marmolejo Aguilar, 30, of Whittier, is currently in state custody on separate charges in North Carolina
• Marco Santillan Jr., 29, of Pahrump, Nevada, Valecia’s son, was arrested in Oregon
• Michael Diaz, 33, of Moreno Valley
• Luis De Arcos, 51, of Midway City and
• Rafael Magallon Castillo, 34, of Oceano, is a fugitive believed to be in Mexico.
According to the indictment, members of the Santillan gun trafficking organization obtained firearms in Oregon and Nevada, consolidated shipments in or near Pahrump and Whittier, and smuggled the items to Mexico. The organization also obtained ammunition from various states to be delivered to a stash location in Nevada.
The conspiracy, which allegedly began no later than March 2020 and operated for about one year, also obtained thousands of rounds of .50-caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds in Arizona, consolidating them in Nevada before attempting to smuggle them into Mexico.
In a May 2020 Facebook message, Santillan Jr. allegedly informed another individual that members of the cartel “are buying everything”, allegedly referring to firearms and firearms parts. Later that day Santillan Jr. allegedly sent a video of himself via Facebook holding a fanned stack of $100 bills and saying the “sale of firearms to the CJNG was profitable.”
During the investigation, officials seized six assault rifles, more than 250,000 rounds of assault rifle ammunition, more than $300,000 worth of weapons parts and kits to assemble several “mini-guns, which are six-barrel rotary machine guns capable of firing up to 6,000 rounds per minute.
The charge of conspiracy to violate export administration regulations carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, and the attempted smuggling counts each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Magallon remains outstanding, and anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at 310- 477-6565.
“This case alleges a scheme to provide military-grade firepower to a major drug trafficking organization that commits unspeakable acts of violence in Mexico to further its goal of flooding the United States with dangerous and deadly narcotics,” U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkinson said. “We will continue our efforts to dismantle drug cartels by targeting their leadership and well as their soldiers, intercepting their narcotics and ill-gotten financial gains, and prosecuting those who provide the resources that allow the cartels to engage in acts of violence.”