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Pahrump man part of crime ring that allegedly aided Mexican cartel

A Pahrump man is among six charged in a federal crime ring that allegedly smuggled weapons and ammunition to a violent Mexican cartel during the pandemic.

Marco Santillan Jr., 29, of Pahrump, was arrested in Oregon earlier this month for his connection to the crime ring, according to reports from KTLA-TV in Los Angeles.

Officials allege that his father, Marco Antonio Santillan Valencia, 51, of Whittier, Calif., led the gun-trafficking organization that used narcotics proceeds to purchase assault rifles, hundreds of thousands of rounds of assault rifle ammunition and machine gun parts and accessories.

Some of those were then smuggled into Mexico, mostly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said.

Santillan Jr. is charged with money laundering and conspiring to violate federal export laws by illegally bringing the weapons and ammunition to cartel operatives in Mexico, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

A California grand jury indicted members of the Santillan gun-trafficking organization after finding sufficient evidence they obtained firearms in Oregon and Nevada. They allegedly consolidated their shipments in or near Pahrump before smuggling them to Mexico. The ring also allegedly obtained ammo from other states and consolidated their stash in Nevada.

The conspiracy, which officials say can be tracked to March 2020, operated for about one year.

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