A self-proclaimed “ranking member” of a violent Mexican drug cartel was charged Thursday with trying to smuggle a large number of guns from Fort Worth to Mexico.
Jose Garcia, 23, was spotted by undercover agents buying high-powered rifles, including AR-15s and AK-47s, at the Fort Worth Gun Show on New Year’s Eve, according to a federal criminal complaint.
Agents later found a total of 26 rifles and $5,200 in cash in Garcia’s pickup, the complaint said.
He told agents he was “a ranking member of the Zeta Cartel” and had smuggled about 250 firearms to Mexico over the past two years. He claimed to make $1,700 per gun and last delivered a shipment of 70 weapons on Dec. 28 to someone named “Skinny” in Houston, the complaint said.
The Zetas formed in the late 1990s when former members of an elite Mexican military unit provided security for the Gulf Cartel but later split and formed their own drug-trafficking group. The Zetas are largely regarded as the most violent in Mexico, blamed for multiple massacres, including an attack last year on a casino in Mexico's third-largest city that killed 52 people.
The case filed Thursday is the latest in a series of undercover gun-smuggling investigations in North Texas by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF.
Garcia led agents to a house in Houston, where a search on Jan. 4 found 45 pounds of marijuana and 34 firearms – 21 AR-15s and 13 AK-47s, agents said.
Garcia cooperated with the investigation at first but later disappeared, the ATF said.