Criminals Influencing Teens for Straw Purchases
WESLACO – Criminal organizations are recruiting teenagers from the U.S. to take on work for them.
One of the jobs teens take up is purchasing firearms illegally and taking them back to the criminals, also known as a straw purchase.
A Rio Grande Valley mother still grieves over her son. He bought a gun illegally and accepted an offer too good to be true.
His family left with nothing but pain. The single mother wants her son to come home.
"We just miss him very much; he's a happy person always running chores. Doing things for the family,” said concerned parent.
She’s a worried mother. Her identity will be hidden for her protection. Her name for this article is Hope.
Hope's son just graduated from high school and was planning for a big future.
“He was going to the army; he was a very good brother. I’m sorry. He would, you know, help me with the baby, taking her to school,” said Hope.
Hope said her boy met a guy at a nightclub.
"And then he started going to the same gym as him. My son was training him. They were kind of like gym buddies,” said Hope.
Her son helped pay the family bills. His new friend didn't plan to keep the companionship for long.
"The person that was doing this, he was using kids to sell drugs and buy guns for them and to transport things,” said Hope.
The son's corrupt colleague took advantage.
"(My son) bought a gun. Someone told him; they buy a gun for me and they gave him $300 to buy the gun for them,” said Hope.
The threats came soon after.
“They tell him if that if he said anything about them; they were going to come kill me, they were going to kill his family. They were going to kill him,” said Hope.
Spanish is not his first language. Now, he is learning to survive in Mexico.
“One week later my son called me that he was in Mexico and I said ‘why you are in Mexico?’ He said ‘Mom, they are looking for me’,” said Hope.
Hope says the price you'll pay isn't worth the easy cash.
"I can't believe they can use kids and tell them everything is OK. When they are actually messing up their lives,” said Hope. "I would be proud if he confronts his situation something that he did.”
She hopes he makes the right decision. She says she knows the people who befriended her son are behind bars.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, say crimes like this are becoming more common in the Valley.
"One of the current trends that we are seeing is that cartel members are recruiting young individuals, males and females, between the ages of 18 to 26 to acquire a firearm,” said resident ATF Agent Noel Rangel.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS decided to take a deeper look at the practice of straw purchases and how young people with clean records become the perfect targets to do criminals' dirty work.
ATF warns of the lifelong consequences of those caught illegally buying a gun for someone else.
Wars need guns. Feeding the arsenal for cartels in Mexico is a job opportunity on the U.S. side of the battle line.
"Cartel members are recruiting young individuals," Rangel said.
These young people have clean records and a whole life ahead of them.
Rangel explains, "At that young age, you're trying to make ends meet. You're trying to get your life started."
The job isn't difficult. The purchase just requires the buyer to lie on the ATF Form 4473.
In order for the gun store to approve the purchase, the buyer needs to write in the form that the weapon is meant for themselves.
After the sale goes through, straw purchasers hand over the weapon to the person who asked them to buy the gun. This happens across the country, in Texas and in the Houston Division of the ATF that district includes the Valley.
"In FY 2017, we initiated a little over 300 firearms trafficking investigations. Of these firearms trafficking investigations, approximately 38 percent were conducted out of the Rio Grande Valley," explains Rangel.
The Valley's proximity to Mexico is one of the reasons why the ATF is focused in this area. The second reason is access to weapons.
"There's a relatively large number of gun stores, federal firearms licensees, within the Rio Grande Valley," adds Rangel.
Despite misconceptions about this type of crime, straw purchasing is not victimless.
Rangel expands, "You're putting other people in jeopardy. You're putting the community of the United States and Mexico in jeopardy."
For those convicted of this crime, the sentence is up to 10 years in federal prison.
Rangel explains they don't often know when a firearm is trafficked until it's recovered after a crime. A proactive approach helps keep the numbers from growing.
ATF Industry Operations Investigators through training conferences with gun store employees teach them how to look for straw purchase indicators.
If gun store owners believe it could be a straw purchase, they are obligated to deny the sale.
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