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Judge sentences Texans in Mexico gun running scheme

By Jared Taylor

MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - A federal judge sentenced 10 South Texas residents to jail and probation on Thursday for their roles in purchasing 55 guns for a trafficking ring that armed drug cartels in Mexico.

The defendants, five men and five women, pleaded guilty to making false statements in buying firearms, ranging from pistols to assault rifles, in a so-called third-party "straw purchase" for the south Texas gun-running ring.

U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa sentenced nine of the defendants to between five and 51 months in prison, while one person was given house arrest and probation.

The ringleader, Oscar Bravo Hernandez, was sentenced to seven years in prison at a previous hearing in December.

Most of the weapons purchased by the defendants were handguns, although some were assault rifles typically used by Mexican drug cartels. It was not clear if any of the weapons ended up in Mexico, where some 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in the past five years.

The investigation was carried out by agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between late 2008 and early 2009, months before the agency launched a controversial operation that allowed guns to land in cartel members' hands.

The sting operation dubbed "Fast and Furious" ran from 2009 to 2011 out of the Phoenix offices of the ATF and the U.S. Attorney. The goal was to try to track guns being smuggled from the initial purchaser to senior drug cartel members.

However, in most cases ATF agents did not follow the guns beyond the initial buyer.

The case is subject to an ongoing inquiry in the U.S. Congress. Republicans have questioned who in President Barack Obama's administration knew about and approved the operation and its tactics and when. They have issued subpoenas for documents and for witnesses to testify.

Authorities in Mexico complain about the flood of weapons coming into their country from the United States, which they say facilitates the deadly war among drug cartels.

The defendants sentenced on Thursday lived in Starr County, Texas, a sparsely-populated border area about 250 miles south of San Antonio.

(Editing By Tim Gaynor)

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