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Feds put plug in pipeline of weapons smuggling between Florida and Brazil

Guns at a New Jersey gun buyback event. (NJ Advance Media/TNS)

Federal authorities said Wednesday they have put a plug in a pipeline of weapons smuggling between Florida and Brazil, cutting off an unprecedented supply of hundreds of firearm accessories to a notorious criminal organization.

The international investigation, which started in 2019 with Brazil’s seizure of five packages containing 55 high-capacity magazines for 9mm pistols, led to a dozen arrests and searches Tuesday that were carried out in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the Orlando area of Florida, authorities said.

Most of the warrants were executed in Brazil, though one man was arrested on weapons smuggling charges in Orlando.

One of the series of shipments to the Brazilian criminal network Primeiro Comando da Capital contained 27 AK-47 rifle magazines hidden inside a spare tire — hence, the federal operation was named “Iron Tire.” Several additional operations led by Homeland Security Investigations included a seizure of a tire in Miami containing 30 rifle magazines bound for Brazil.

HSI Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury said federal authorities have joined forces with their South American counterparts to “pursue the criminal organizations exploiting international borders to further their illicit enterprise.”

In recent years, HSI agents in Miami have intercepted and seized thousands of weapons and accessories being shipped from Florida to Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti — weaponry bought by criminal gangs, drug traffickers and terrorist organizations at high markups on the black market. In Operation Patagonia, authorities confiscated more than 5,300 assault-style weapons, components and explosives that were shipped through the mail from South Florida to Argentina in 2019.

The previous year, U.S. and Brazilian authorities collaborated in the arrest of Frederik Barbieri, who organized a shipment of 60 semiautomatic rifles, including AK-47s and other military-type firearms, that were confiscated at Rio de Janeiro airport. The illegal loads were hidden in pool heater crates. Barbieri, considered Brazil’s biggest firearms dealer at the time, was arrested at his home in Port St. Lucie in 2018.

Often times, as in operations Iron Tire and Patagonia, a container of weapons and ammunition is intercepted in either a South American country or in Florida, laying the groundwork for a collaborative undercover investigation targeting arms traffickers who use the U.S. Postal Service and private carriers to move their illegal shipments.

In the Iron Tire case, HSI agents in Miami worked with the Brazil Federal Police and their federal colleagues in Orlando and Tucson, Arizona, along with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

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(c) 2021 Miami Herald

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