Scott Gordon, NBCDFW.com
A Fort Worth is accused of conspiring to buy high-powered rifles to smuggle to the Zeta drug cartel in Mexico.
A Fort Worth beautician and mother of three faces charges she conspired to buy high-powered rifles to smuggle to a violent Mexican drug cartel.
Mary Jane Esparza, 34, offered to pay $800 to a man to buy four semi-automatic assault rifles, according to a criminal complaint.
She and three men were arrested Thursday by agents with the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF.
"She is a good person," said her mother Rosalinda Cuellar. "She's a good mom and everything."
Cuellar said her daughter was struggling to make enough to care for her three children.
"I think it's all about the money," Cuellar said. "It's all about easy money."
Robert Champion, the ATF special agent in charge in Dallas, said gun-running is a growing problem in North Texas.
"It's not our first time we've arrested women," he said. "Firearms trafficking has touched all facets of society."
In just the past two years, the ATF has investigated 90 cases of gun-running in North Texas involving 2,500 weapons, he said.
"There is no shortage of work for us right now," Champion said. "We think the traffickers have migrated up north. Houston had a prevalent problem, and we feel Dallas is coming into that arena where we are having a substantial amount of trafficking cases."
In March, the gun used to kill a U.S. immigration agent in Mexico a month earlier was linked to a Lancaster man.
Many cases in North Texas, including Esparza's, involve the Zeta drug cartel, Champion said.
The Zetas, once highly trained members of the Mexican military, are now one of the most violent drug cartels in Mexico, where 40,000 people have died over the past five years in a bloody drug war.
The investigation into Esparza began when managers of a Fort Worth gun store alerted agents about a suspicious $2,576 sale.
The buyer was detained after purchasing the weapons and told agents that Esparza promised to pay him $200 each for four guns, described as 5.56 caliber "AR-type rifles," the complaint said.
Agents found $14,905 cash and two loaded pistols in another suspect's lunch box and found seven more rifles in his house. Two of them were hidden in a secret compartment under the floor of his bedroom closet, the complaint said.
Mary Jane Esparza's mother worries her daughter's mistake will cost her years in prison.
"That's my fear, that she's going to go away for a long time," Cuellar said. "And the kids need her. Her kids need her."
Esparza has two sons, ages 10 and 11, and a 16-year-old daughter, according to Esparza's mother.
"It's not worth it," she said. "To lose your family for dumb things like this, it's not worth it."