A Texan who served in the US Army Rangers has been denied bail following accusations of running guns to Mexico’s drug cartels.
36-year-old Jose J. Soto Jr., was denied bail by US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth “Betsy” Chestney on Wednesday,with the judge claiming he was a flight risk and danger to the public.
“He’s an international arms dealer,” Assistant US Attorney John Gibson told the judge. “He is basically an employee of the cartel.”
Soto originally enlisted in the Army back in 2004, serving 11 years before his honorable discharge in 2015. During his tenure, he spent time in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Soto was arrested alongside San Antonio residents Derek Quintanilla, Samuel Cardenas and Alex Bautista in connection with a suspected arms trafficking ring.
Homeland Security special agent Alfredo Martinez testified that the group purchased around 225 firearms in a matter of months, mostly AK and AR-pattern rifles, as well as a few .50-caliber rifles. Several of the weapons were illegally converted to automatic firearms. In addition, the ring allegedly bought tens of thousands of rifle magazines.
“A lot of time they (cartel members) are involved in shootouts,” Martinez said. “They don’t have time to reload. They just change out magazines and the (empty) magazines are left at the scene.”
Soto’s attorney, Scott McCrum, said that Soto had a multitude of reasons to frequently travel to Laredo and it’s Mexican counterpart, Nuevo Laredo. Soto’s mother and a son from a previous relationship both live in Laredo, with the former also owning property in Nuevo Laredo. In addition, his wife, Sara Elizabeth Soto, is from the Mexican border city.
Mrs. Soto testified that her husband purchased firearms as a hobby, and never displayed any acts of aggression to anyone.
Judge Chestney, however, was not convinced.
“This is a lot- the quantity of the ammunition and guns,” Chestney said. “You can’t with a straight face make an argument that this is a collector or a hobbyist.”
According to the San Antonio Express-News, federal authorities suspect Soto became a weapons supplier to the Cartel del Noreste, or CDN, a faction of the former Zetas.
All suspects have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to illegally export items on the munitions list and buying and selling guns without a license.
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