Guns and ammunition trafficking are contributing to the drug violence in Mexico and along the Arizona-Mexico border. William Newell, Special Agent in Charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix, talks about what the agency is doing to reduce violence and criminal activities.
José Cárdenas : There are concerns that Mexico's drug war is crossing overinto drug violence and criminal activities here in Arizona. Guns heading south into Mexico have become one of the elements contributing to the violence at the Arizona-Mexico border. Joining me is William Newell, special agent in charge for the bureau of alcohol, tobacco, firearms, and explosives here in Phoenix. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."
William Newell: Thank you for having me.
José Cárdenas : We point out the SAC in Phoenix, but you just had a major operation in New Mexico. Tell us about that.
William Newell: We had a year-long store front operation, a sting, if you will, targeted at an area, high-crime area in Albuquerque. And focused on violent characteristic predatory criminals using firearms illegally, possessing stolen firearms. And we arrested about 28 individuals, very violent predatory criminals, took off about 230 firearms during this operation, and about 40 were stolen. So that's our job in ATF, to focus on the reducing violent crime, especially firearms related crime, which is happening along the border this Mexico.
José Cárdenas : At the same time that you have a major development in success as you just described, this week the newspapers have headlines about the increased violence, and at this point in time it's hard to talk about increased violence in Mexico, but it's there. 12 federal agents killed in one incident, and many others. What's going on?
William Newell: The cartels are getting much more brazen. They know the administration has a certain amount of time left to win this war. It's a war in Mexico. It's a war between the drug cartels for control of the drug routes and trafficking routes. Trafficking of human and drugs, guns, trafficking of money. Of contraband. And it's a war on the part of the government of Mexico, very valiant war, and to some extent a successful war. It's one of those situations where the violence goes up in almost a very strange way. It's a sign of success, because the cartels for so many years were used to doing business as usual. President Calderón said we're not going to allow that to condition, but the result has been the violence. We have to stand by this administration, because we're part of this. Mexico is not just our neighbor to the south, they're our neighbor. And they're a neighbor in need. Just like if your neighbor is in need, you need to help them. So we need to do that.
José Cárdenas : President Calderon was in Washington last month, telling president Obama what he thought the United States needed to do to be that good neighbor that you're talking about.
William Newell: Right.
José Cárdenas : Fill us in on some of the aspects in which the United States and particularly your agency orR providing --
William Newell: ATF is a federal firearms agency, the federal agency is responsible for the firearms market, regulatory and criminal enforcement. And in Mexico, one of their number one -- their number 1 domestic agenda is firearms. The firearms being illegally trafficked into Mexico and used in Mexico. A large percentage come through the United States. Theorize they're illegally purchased, illegally transported, or illegally possessed. So one of the top agendas on the part of the Calderón administration was, we need to do more to address the elicit trafficking of firearms in Mexico.
José Cárdenas : As I understand it, one difficulty in terms of cooperation between the two countries is, just totally different regimes when it comes to gun control. Mexico, very, very strict policies. And they don't understand why we don't have something comparable in the United States. I think people would be surprised actually how easy it is to buy major -- substantial arms in Arizona.
William Newell: Well, exactly right. We have two countries that while they're neighbors, have two opposed distinct gun laws. But yet we've made it clear to Mexico and here in the United States that working within the parameters of the laws that we're authorized to enforce, going after the people illegally buying, selling, possessing firearms, we can have success. But the cartels are going after more and more high-power firearms, 50 caliber rifles, things like that because they are at war with the Mexican government. And the .50 caliber rifles are key because they're going after higher and higher ranked government officials riding around in Mexico most of the time in lightly armored vehicles, SUVs that are armored. So they use -- the cartels use the firearms to kill and have unfortunately have had success in doing so.
José Cárdenas : Significant amount of those weapons end up in Mexico come from the United States, but specifically Arizona.
William Newell: Yeah. The trace data, we look at the trace data, firearms tracing. ATF has the national tracing center. When firearms are traced and when they're recovered in a crime and traced, in other words, the history of that firearm becomes known as to the manufacture E. the wholesaler and the individual who purchased it. We provide that information to local law enforcement of the United States as well as the law enforcement around the world. If the firearm originated from the United States, manufactured here or legally imported. A very -- based on the information provided to us, a large percentage of those firearms come from the united states. What we do is we follow up on the information and conduct investigations on the individuals, connecting the dots, using that information to connect the dots, going after the trafficking organizations. And unfortunately a large portion of that is straw purchasers, individuals violating the raw by lying on the gun forms, lying to the dealers. It's a major problem.
José Cárdenas : Lying about who they intend -- .
William Newell: The intended use. If you're a straw purchaser of firearms, going in and lying on the gun form, lying to the dealer, and making a profit off of it, usually there's a profit involved, you're buying guns for someone who can't legally do it, or doesn't want their names on the that form, don't want the guns traced back to them, you have as much blood on your hands as the people who used those guns to kill people in Mexico, because if you knew those guns were going to Mexico, and you knew there was a risk or some semblance of belief those guns were being used or being provided to violent criminals, have you a responsibility to not do that. It's not only -- it's a 10-year federal felony and a $250,000 fine to go into a dealer and lie on those forms.
José Cárdenas : While the intended recipients, the customer so to speak of these weapons are the Mexican cartels, the people who are doing the acquisition, the purchases, are U.S. citizens, or lawful U.S. residents.
William Newell: To buy a gun legally have you to be a citizen or lawful permanent resident. To go to the gun stores and fill out the ATF form. So we do a lot of education campaigns try to tell people, we're not interested in going after the straw purchasers who might be doing this for money. We really want to go after the trafficking networks. The individuals who are not only trafficking in firearms or ordering the cartels, we know for a fact through numerous investigations that we've conducted many in conjunction with DEA, that the drug cartels are actively pursuing trafficking of firearms into Mexico. Not only firearms, but ammunition. And we're having success, and we know for a fact many investigations we're conducting, the cartels are willing to pay more and more money for those guns that they wouldn't have paid as much for two years ago.
José Cárdenas : We began by talking about a recent operation in New Mexico. About September of last year you had major operation, here in Phoenix, and we're starting to see the results of that with recent convictions. Tell us about that.
William Newell: Over last summer working in conjunction Phoenix police department, a home invasion problem in the Phoenix area. Home invasions are individuals who go into a drug house or a house where firearms might be and break into someone's home, usually someone who is also involved in ill elicit activity and steal those drugs, Humane Society, guns, what have you. There's a lot of violence involved, these people are armed, sometimes they're on drugs, and so what we did --
José Cárdenas : we've got about 25 seconds.
William Newell: The we had a successful operation, we arrested about 75 individuals about a dozen different home invasion crews. So far all of them either pled guilty or been convicted in federal trial. And they're looking at serious sentences.
José Cárdenas : Congratulations on that success. And thank you for joining us agent William Newell, in Phoenix.
William Newell: Thank you very much.
William Newell:Special Agent in Charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Phoenix;