Former Army Ranger sentenced for supplying guns, ammo to Mexican cartel


A former Army Ranger from San Antonio with ties to Laredo has been sentenced to prison for supplying guns, ammo and tactical equipment to the Cartel Del Noreste in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Jose Joaquin Soto, 38, pleaded guilty on Aug. 5 to export and attempt to export firearms and ammo, conspiracy to defraud the United States, importing/manufacturing firearms and failure to register a firearm.

Jose Joaquin Soto

U.S. District Senior Judge John D. Rainey sentenced Soto to 80 months in prison on Nov. 3. The court recommended for Soto to be placed in the Bastrop facility or other facility near his home in San Antonio.

“This sentencing sends a clear message to individuals who conspire to purchase weapons for the purpose of smuggling out of the country,” said Shane Folden, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations San Antonio. “HSI along with its federal partners will continue to target firearms smuggling organizations and dismantle these networks responsible for fueling drug cartel violence that poses a threat here in the United States and abroad.”

The case unfolded in August 2018, when HSI developed information that Derek Quintanilla, Alex Bautista and Soto were involved in smuggling firearms for the Cartel Del Noreste in Nuevo Laredo.

Soto purchased 1,000 magazines on Nov. 12, 2018, to be delivered the next day. After receiving the shipment, special agents followed Soto from his residence in San Antonio to a stash house on 1113 Aldama St. in Laredo. Webb County Appraisal District records showed that Soto owned the house.

Surveillance at the house on Aldama showed Soto and others unloading several boxes into the home and departing in a white car. Soto was seen driving this vehicle with others in Laredo and returning to the home on Aldama moments later. Agents then witnessed Soto and others depart the home on Aldama in the GMC Yukon.

A Ford Escape arrived later at the home on Aldama. An individual was seen loading several items into the Escape and departing from the home on Aldama. This happened at about 2 a.m. Nov. 14, 2018. The Escape drove to a neighborhood near an international bridge in downtown Laredo.

Burglary report

During surveillance, special agents observed three men running from the Escape with items in their hands.

Simultaneously, a resident of the neighborhood called 911 to report three people who were breaking into vehicles. Surveillance units found the Escape parked with the back window smashed. Laredo police arrived to speak with the neighbor. The neighbor told police that three suspects had ran into a home close by, and it appeared they were carrying firearms.

Police and HSI spoke to the second homeowner, who was in a wheelchair. The homeowner allowed authorities into his home to search for the three suspects. Authorities found the three suspects hiding in a closet with five AR-15s they had stolen from the Escape. Officers and special agents then observed ammo in some of the boxes located inside the Escape.

Additional items seized from the Escape included 25 pistols, 10,143 rounds of .223 ammunition, 10,097 rounds of 7.62 caliber ammunition, 21 .45 caliber magazines, 12 .40 caliber magazines, 42 9mm magazines, four Kevlar vests, 15 ballistic helmets, 15 various holsters and two vest carriers.

On Nov. 15, 2018, HSI special agents raided the stash house on Aldama and seized 13 firearms, thousands of rounds of AR/AK style ammunition, 50 ballistic plates, 65 rifle magazines, one 40mm grenade launcher and nine boxes that contained 1,000 magazines. Agents said the shipping labels on these boxes had Soto’s name and residence in San Antonio.

Seized items

Below is a detailed list of items seized from the home on Aldama on Nov. 15, 2018:

 .50 caliber Barrett rifle.

 Lewis Machine & Tool Co. (LMT) 40mm grenade launcher.

 Six pistols.

 One Anderson Manufacturing AM-15 rifle.

 Six AR type lower receivers.

 Seven AR type complete upper receivers.

 A single improvised explosive device looking device that turned out to be non lethal.

 1,015 .45 caliber ammo.

 399 9mm caliber ammo.

 5,887 7.62 caliber ammo.

 2,554 .223 caliber ammo.

 366 .223/5.56 caliber magazines.

 252 7.62 caliber magazines.

 Seven 9mm magazines.

 Seven .45 caliber magazines.

 Two .50 caliber magazines.

 50 ballistic plates.

 Tactical gear.

 Significant amount of weapon parts.

 Nine magazine boxes with Soto’s name and San Antonio address containing 1,000 magazines.

 Miscellaneous pieces of Soto’s identifiable property.

On March 8, 2019, an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives firearms enforcement officer would determine that the grenade launcher was a destructive device with its serial number obliterated. Further examination of the grenade launcher revealed Soto’s fingerprint.

More ammo and magazines

On Nov. 30, 2018, HSI San Antonio received information that Soto had ordered another 1,000 magazines to be delivered at Soto’s residence in San Antonio in the 6100 block of Diego Lane. During surveillance, special agents observed Soto accompanied by Samuel Cardenas receive the magazines.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations pilots notified special agents that they could observe a large pallet of ammo inside Soto’s garage. Soto and Cardenas then loaded the boxes into Soto’s GMC Sierra. Special agents followed Soto and Cardenas to A-AAA Key Mini Storage on 11707 Culebra Rd.

Soto and Cardenas then returned to Soto’s residence. HSI then learned that Soto was the tenant for unit 5007. Soto and Cardenas arrived at the mini storage again and loaded more boxes into the bed of the GMC Sierra. As Soto and Cardenas departed the storage facility, authorities saw Cardenas throw multiple 13-gallon size bags into the dumpster at the A-AAA Key Mini Storage. Special agents later inspected the bags and found empty boxes of .223 and 7.62 ammo boxes.

Meanwhile at Soto’s residence, special agents observe Soto and Cardenas retrieve the ammo boxes from Soto’s garage and load them into Soto’s GMC Sierra.

Driving to Laredo

Soto, Cardenas and other occupants then drove to Laredo in Soto’s GMC Sierra.

Special agents observed Soto arrive at the Budget Self Storage on 5906 San Bernardo Avenue. Soto and his occupants unload the boxes from Soto’s GMC Sierra and take them inside storage No. 121. Soto then drove to Walmart on 5610 San Bernardo Ave.

A tan Chevrolet Suburban with Mexican license plates and a blue Ford Fusion with Texas license plate arrived at unit No. 121. Special agents observed the boxes being loaded into the Suburban and the Fusion. The two vehicles drove in different directions and then reunited at the McDonald’s on 1120 Santa Ursula Ave.

A third vehicle described as a Chrysler 200 with temporary license plates met up with the Suburban and the Fusion. Special agents saw the Fusion depart and followed it to a gas station. Meanwhile, the Suburban and Chrysler remained at McDonald’s. With assistance from LPD, special agents approached the vehicle.

Gina Gibeaut-Morales, a U.S. citizen, was identified as the driver of the Fusion. Special agents said they found multiple boxes of loose ammo in the trunk of the car. She stated she was paid to take the items to Mexico and added it was her second trip.

Special agents identified the driver of the Suburban as Juan Jose Garcia-Cruz, a Mexican citizen. A search of the Suburban revealed multiple boxes of loose ammo, garbage bags with magazines and a garbage bag with ballistic helmets inside the cargo area of the Suburban.

The driver of the Chrysler was identified as Hector Hugo Olivas, a U.S. citizen. Nothing was found in his vehicle. Olivas claimed that he had been in the area to eat and added that he did not know Garcia-Cruz. However, Garcia-Cruz stated he was waiting for Olivas to instruct him when to cross the vehicles. Garcia-Cruz added that he was working to pay off a debt to the cartel.

Authorities seized 18,096 rounds of .223 ammo and 9,981 rounds of 7.62 ammo from the trunk of the Fusion. From the Suburban, special agents seized 500 rounds of .50 caliber ammo, 2,004 round of .223 ammo, 500 AK magazines and 500 AR magazines and 20 ballistic helmets.

Soto arrives at McDonald’s

While searching the Suburban at the McDonald’s, Soto’s GMC Sierra arrived and parked near the scene. LPD officers approached the vehicle and identified the occupants as Soto, Cardenas and Fernando Sanchez-Ortiz, a Mexican citizen. Authorities then discovered that Sanchez-Ortiz was the tenant of storage unit No. 121.

Cardenas would testify that he was Soto’s friend. Cardenas began purchasing guns for Soto in 2015. He had purchased guns, ammo and magazines for Soto. Soto purchased the grenade launcher, Cardenas stated. Cardenas added he knew the weaponry would go to Mexico. Cardenas stated he knew because he met with members of the Cartel Del Noreste when they would deliver bulk cash to Soto as payment. Cardenas testified that Soto would ask him to take the blame so that nothing would happen to Soto’s family in Mexico.

Bautista testified he purchased 20 to 40 firearms for Soto. Bautista picked up 10,000 rounds of ammo from Houston for Soto and did it at least eight times. Bautista knew the firearms and ammo were going to Mexico because he would escort Soto on trips to Laredo during the conspiracy.

Quintanilla stated he would admire Soto because he was in the military. Quintanilla, too, purchased weapons for Soto and would get others to also purchase weapons for Soto. Quintanilla added he knew the weapons, ammo and other equipment would go to the cartel in Mexico.

Bautista, Cardenas, Garcia-Cruz, Gibeaut-Morales, Olivas and Quintanilla have all pleaded guilty in the case. Quintanilla, Cardenas and Bautista are awaiting sentencing and remain out on bond, according to court records.

Gibeaut-Morales and Garcia-Cruz are already out of custody. Olivas is currently behind bars at a federal correctional institution in Bastrop. Olivas is expected to be released July 15, 2021.

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©2020 the Laredo Morning Times (Laredo, Texas)

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