Four Southland men suspected of having ties to Mexican drug cartels were arrested and charged Friday with trafficking in drugs and firearms, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
They were arrested by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents and Los Angeles police investigators after a 10-month investigation in which authorities purchased or seized 50 firearms, including 17 guns that were discovered as a result of Friday's action, prosecutors said.
Edgardo “Primo” Prado Casteneda, 26, of Azusa, who claimed to be a Southern California operative of the La Familia drug cartel based in Michoacan, Mexico, is charged with selling firearms without a license and distributing methamphetamine.
Vicente “Chevy” Garcia Jr., 38, of Azusa, is accused of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and Steven Scott Blanks, 47, of Norco, is charged with possessing a machine gun.
Victor “Fingers” Velasquez, 34, of El Monte, who allegedly delivered a quarter-pound of methamphetamine to an undercover operative, is charged with distribution of methamphetamine.
They are expected to make their initial federal court appearances after 3 p.m. Friday in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
If convicted, they could each face more than 10 years in prison.
“Friday's arrests and enforcement actions conclude a successful investigation by LAPD and ATF into a firearms trafficking ring with possible ties to Mexican drug cartels,” said Christopher Shaefer of the ATF's Los Angeles field division.
“Many firearms were taken off the street that may have otherwise ended up in the hands of those determined to further their criminal activity,” he said. “ATF will trace each firearm purchased or seized in this operation to determine who else may be facilitating illegal firearm sales.”
Three of the men allegedly sold guns, including automatic weapons, to an undercover operative, prosecutors said.
The arrests were made as Prado allegedly planned to collect a “debt” and possibly kidnap a man he said owed money to La Familia, prosecutors said.
Prado allegedly told the informant that a boss in the cartel that he called “Cuete” had sent a courier to Mexico to transport narcotics, but the courier was arrested and provided information to Mexican authorities that led to the arrest of another high-ranking cartel member in Mexico City.
As a result of this, “Cuete” owed the Cartel $3 million, Prado reportedly said.
If the informant participated in the collection of the so-called debt, Prado promised him a share of money that would be paid by the cartel, prosecutors said.