Monday, August 20, 2012

Brownsville Jury Convicts Customs and Border Protection Officer in Firearms Case

BROWNSVILLE—A federal jury has found Manuel Eduardo Pena, 38, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer, guilty of two counts of making a false statement in a firearms record and one count of making a false statement to a federal agency, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Pena, of Brownsville, Texas, was convicted just a short time ago following a four-day trial and approximately four hours of deliberation.

At trial, a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent testified that he witnessed Pena buy at firearm at the Academy Sporting Goods Store in Brownsville on Dec. 5, 2011. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Form 4473, required for firearms purchases, indicated Pena stated he was purchasing the firearm for himself. However, agents witnessed Pena take the firearm from the store and deliver it to another person in exchange for money. The person to whom he provided the firearm testified that, in fact, the gun was for him, not Pena.

Evidence was also presented that a second straw purchase was made by Pena on Dec. 19, 2011, at the same Academy store. HSI and FBI agents were present and again witnessed Pena purchase the firearm, answer that the firearm was for him and then transfer the gun to that same individual at the end of the sale.

The FBI took possession of both firearms.

Pena was arrested May 24, 2012, at which time he lied to an FBI agent, claiming he had bought the guns for his own personal hunting use and saying he used them at his deer lease before leaving them with a friend. In fact, the guns were in the possession of the FBI and clearly were straw-purchased for another person.

Pena tried to convince the jury the guns purchase were part of a “communal purchase” of firearms for a hunting lease.

Pena has been a CBP officer for 12 years and the charges are unrelated to his official duties.

United States District Court Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who presided over the trial, has set sentencing for Nov. 19, 2012, at which time Pena faces up to five years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine on each count of conviction. Previously released on bond, Pena was allowed to remain on bond pending sentencing.

The case was investigated by agents from HSI and the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Oscar Ponce and Karen Betancourt.

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