North Texas link to gun that killed ICE agent in Mexico

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by REBECCA LOPEZ and GARY REAVES

Bio | Email | Follow: @rlopezwfaa

WFAA

Posted on February 28, 2011 at 5:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 1 at 3:33 AM

Gun traced to Joshua, Texas

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Here is new information about a story you saw first on News 8.

A single gun has been linked to the fatal shooting of a U.S. federal agent in Mexico — and American investigators have now tied that weapon to Lancaster, Texas.

The Department of Justice isn't releasing any information on this case, but News 8 has learned that a high-powered 7.62mm gun purchased in North Texas is connected to the ambush that killed Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent Jamie Zapata and wounded his partner.

On Monday, vederal agents stormed a residence in Lancaster.

"I heard a couple of those air grenades go off," said a neighbor, who watched as agents arrested Otilio and Ranferi Osorio.

They also took Kelvin Morrison into custody, who lives next door.

Federal agents said the men would purchase weapons legally at gun shows and gun stores. But then, they would allegedly sell them illegally to Mexican drug cartels.

"We believe they have their own firearms trafficking organizations, individuals here to purchase guns for these organizations," said Robert Champion, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Dallas field office.

News 8 has learned that the three Lancaster men have been under investigation since last year for smuggling. An affidavit said they sold 40 weapons to a federal informant, but were not arrested.

Then on Friday word came the men were linked to a gun found at the murder scene in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, where agent Zapata was slain — even though the weapon's serial number had been filed off.

ATF agents were able to make a positive identification that led them to a gun shop in Joshua, in north central Johnson County, located 20 miles south of Fort Worth.

The gun shop owner told News 8 the weapon was purchased legally and all the background checks had been done in accordance with regulations.

But that weapon ended up in the hands of a drug cartel in Mexico and ballistics tests confirmed it was the gun used in the death of the agent.

"This is a typical firearms traficking scheme that we have been investigating for quite some time," Champion said.

News 8 has also learned that even though the serial number on the gun was filed off, agents used a chemical process called "raising" to restore the number.

ATF says Americans are recruited by the drug cartels to purchase guns used in Mexico's deadly turf battles, offering them $50 to $500 per weapon.

On Sunday, Mexico announced the arrest of two alleged members of the Zetas drugs cartel who they said are linked to Zapata slaying.

Breaking up these gun-running gangs is a major responsibility for federal agents in North Texas, but what hasn't changed is the resources they have available. The number of ATF agents working out of the Dallas office hasn't changed since 1972.

E-mail rlopez@wfaa.com and greaves@wfaa.com

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