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Illegal immigrant sentenced for leading gun-trafficking cell from Oregon that smuggled nearly 150 rifles to Mexican cartel

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

A 51-year-old leader of a local gun-trafficking cell that bought and smuggled nearly 150 high-powered rifles to Mexico for use by a violent drug cartel was sentenced Monday to six years and three months in federal prison.

The gun trafficking was an “aberration” in David Acosta-Rosales’ life, said his defense lawyer, Benjamin Andersen.

He urged the judge to consider Acosta-Rosales’ dedication to his family, including his wife and two children, and support for his nieces and nephews, as well as his lack of a prior criminal history.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Barr said Acosta-Rosales had a side that his family didn’t know.

Acosta-Rosales, who was living most recently in Troutdale, admitted to feeding guns to one of the most dangerous and well-armed drug cartels in the world, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to Barr.

The cartel operated in 27 of 32 Mexican states and is believed responsible for the violent deaths of innocent people and public officials, Barr said.

Acosta-Rosales’ boss in Mexico would demand specific types of high-powered firearms, such as AR-15 and AK-47 platform rifles, semi-automatic .50-caliber Barrett rifles and premium military-type rifles, she said.

Since at least September 2019, Acosta-Rosales recruited straw purchasers to buy the rifles at gun stores in the Portland and Salem areas. He then would oversee the obliteration of serial numbers on the rifles before managing their transfer to a courier for shipment to Mexico, according to prosecutors.

He’d receive cash from his boss in Mexico and pass the cash, along with a commission, to the straw purchasers or an intermediary, while keeping a commission for himself, according to Barr.

“His first recruit was his son,” Barr told the court.

He knew the guns would be used by the cartel “in the hustle” because “they want the impact” to “make a mess,” according to Acosta-Rosales’ plea agreement.

“He may have been a loving father but he ran a gun trafficking cell to tear families apart through brutal, unimaginable violence,” Barr said.

Acosta-Rosales continued trafficking guns to Mexico even after authorities arrested three of his co-defendants in April 2020 and seized many firearms. He continued for six more months until his arrest that October, according to Barr.

He provided a parcel of land to the cartel in Mexico to pay off his debt, and “was back in their good graces, looking for more guns and weapons to send them and make himself more money,” Barr said.

On Oct. 1 of this year, he made a $14,000 down-payment for other high-powered weapons, including grenades, a 40 mm grenade launcher and a .50-caliber tripod-mounted, belt-fed machine gun that’s used to “spray and shoot people quickly at a distance,” according to Barr.

Acosta-Rosales paid $2,000 more on Oct. 8 for the weapons when he went to pick them up. The weapons were delivered in a U-Haul truck to an undisclosed meeting spot in a restaurant parking lot, where Acosta-Rosales obtained the keys to the truck.

He chose to drive the U-Haul with the weapons instead of transferring the weapons to his own vehicle in the restaurant parking lot out of concern someone would notice, according to Barr.

He was arrested before he could transfer the weapons from the U-Haul truck to Mexico, according to prosecutors.

His son, Llodany David Acosta-Michel, was charged in the case and has yet to be sentenced. The son pulled out of the criminal conspiracy early on, Barr said.

Acosta-Rosales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements in the acquisition of firearms.

“If not for him, there would be no money to buy the guns, no initial recruitment of straw purchasers to buy them, no direction about what type of guns to buy, no obliteration of serial numbers (either by himself or at his instruction), and no transfer of the guns to couriers to transport out of Oregon,” Barr said.

She urged the sentence of six years and three months, while Andersen, Acosta-Rosales’ lawyer, argued for three years and four months. Andersen said his client has lived in Oregon for decades but will face deportation, which alone is a significant punishment, because he’s not a U.S. citizen.

U.S. District Judge Karin J. Immergut said she considered that Acosta-Rosales had no significant criminal history and much family support, but she said she couldn’t ignore the serious nature of his crimes.

“It seemed he disregarded all of that for his own profit,” the judge said.

Immergut called the government’s recommended sentence “appropriate, and frankly a lenient sentence” for his behavior.

Seven of Acosta-Rosales’ 10 alleged conspirators have pleaded guilty. Five have been sentenced. Two are pending sentencing. The remaining three face trial.

Acting U.S. Attorney Scott E. Asphaug said the case shows that no state is beyond the reach of violent drug cartels and that drug traffickers and other criminals are frequently manipulating the legal process to obtain guns from licensed dealers in the United States.

Jonathan T. McPherson, special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said his agency “will tirelessly investigate anyone who traffics in firearms.”

“Whether they are organizing an international trafficking cell, as Acosta-Rosales was doing, or they are straw purchasing firearms for trafficking purposes, we will work to ensure that they are caught and, through the U.S. Attorney’s Office, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.


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