(Deming) – Records show a gun smuggling operation run by
former town officials in Columbus had a direct link to targets of the bungled "Fast and Furious" operation run by federal officials in Arizona.
Federal prosecutors have sought to distance the Columbus gun smuggling case from the Arizona probe.
But reports obtained by the Albuquerque Journal show federal agents were aware in early 2010 that the leader of the Columbus ring had been stopped a few months earlier with weapons purchased by a suspect involved in the Fast and Furious case.
That connection apparently dried up and ringleader and town trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez began buying guns himself and paying others to buy guns for him from a New Mexico dealer. He has pleaded guilty to gun smuggling but hasn't been sentenced.
Prosecutors have said the Columbus gun smuggling ring shipped nearly 200 guns to Mexican drug
As of mid-October, eight of 12 convicted defendants in the case had been sentenced.
Still awaiting sentencing were Gutierrez, former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega, Ricardo Gutierrez and Eva Gutierrez.
(Deming) – The state Public Education Commission will be in Deming and Columbus Wednesday to hear public comments on proposals for new charter schools.
The commission’s Columbus meeting is set for 9-10:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Columbus Community Center.
Organizers are trying to get the state to approve a charter school in Columbus to serve 7th through 12th grade students living in southern Luna County, to include American citizen students living in Palomas, Mexico.
Supporters say the school – which would feature a non-traditional school year, longer school day and partner organizations – also would allow parents to be more involved in their children’s education.
And organizers are petitioning for another charter school in Deming. The Academic Opportunities Academy would be a self-paced, individualized, multi-grade educational program serving grades 1-12 using a detailed curriculum mapping database.
The Deming meeting is set for 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in the conference center at 119 East Pine Street.
Both meetings are part of a statewide swing this week by the state Public Education Commission which includes stops in Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Gadsden, Alamogordo and Carlsbad.
There are applications pending before the commission to establish 14 new charter schools.
The commission will meet next month in Santa Fe to vote on whether to approve the schools.
(Deming) – A Deming man was arrested at the Columbus port of entry Tuesday after being caught with nearly 300 pounds of marijuana.
66-year-old old Benjamin Espino was turned over to U-S Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents to face federal charges in connection with the failed smuggling
Columbus Port Director Robert Reza said Espino was driving a 2000 Chevrolet Silverado pickup at just after 3:30 Tuesday morning.
Reza said the pickup was selected for secondary exam… and port officers noticed signs of tampering. An x-ray of the truck showed anomalies in the appearance of the floor of the truck. A narcotics canine also alerted to the floor… and that’s where officers found 276 marijuana-filled bundles weighing 295-pounds.
Reza said Espino is a legal permanent resident from Mexico who lives in Deming.
Although the primary mission of U-S Customs and Border Protection officers is anti-terrorism… their mission also
includes carrying out traditional border-related responsibilities, including narcotics interdiction.
Reza said they screen all people, vehicles and goods entering the United States while facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel into and out of the U-S.
Officials at the Luna County Detention Center said a photo of Espino was not available due to him being charged with a Federal Crime.
(Deming) -- A 72-year-old Columbus man was ripped off by a woman who befriended him, and that woman is now facing charges. 54-year-old Patricia Garcia of Las Cruces has been arrested on charges of fraud over 20-thousand dollars... computer access with intent to defraud... and fraudulent use of a credit card over 20-thousand dollars. Luna County Sheriff's Investigator Bobby Brookhouser said Garcia was arrested last week at the Santa Teresa school where she is employed. She is accused of taking over 80-thousand dollars from the Columbus man over an 18-month period by transferring funds from his account to hers... making Automated Teller Machine withdrawals at a casino... and using the man's debit card. Brookhouser said Garcia's arrest was the result of a three-month investigation, which began after the man's family members discovered money missing from his accounts.
(Deming) -- As part of New Mexico Heritage Preservation Month, Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus is having an event this Saturday called "Remembering the Past." Heritage Educator John Read said the event will be held in the Pancho Villa State Park exhibit hall from 10 a-m to 2:30 p-m.
The presentations will begin at 10 Saturday morning with Kirtland Air Force Base Archivist Stephen Watson talking about the role of aviation before, during and after the punitive expedition in pursuit of Pancho Villa into Mexico in 1916. At 11... young Columbus students will perform with Ballet Folklorico Korimi in traditional costumes. And at 11:30... interim Park Manager Alex Mares will talk about General John "Black Jack" Pershing's forgotten Apache scouts. Also... the Desert Nursery will have cactus plants for sale.
Everyone is invited to attend the "Remembering the Past" event this Saturday at Pancho Villa State Park in Columbus.
Legislative Finance Committee Here:
(Deming) -- The NM Legislative Finance Committee, which is chaired by Deming Senator John Arthur Smith, will be meeting in Deming and Columbus next week.
Committee members are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Columbus at the Columbus Community Center... and Thursday and Friday in Deming at the Mimbres Valley Learning and Special Events Center.
Included on the agenda Wednesday is a welcome and community input from Columbus Mayor Nicole Lawson and Luna County officials.
The committee members will have a border development update and an agriculture and trade update... and will tour the Luna County stockyards, Sapphire Energy and Preferred Produce.
The members will cross the border for lunch at the Pink Store in Palomas.
Thursday's agenda begins with a welcome from Deming Mayor Andres Silva and School Superintendent Harvielee Moore.
The committee members will hear a labor market overview and barriers to employment... a review of workforce programs... an update on the Arizona Water Settlements Act... and
southwest border security threats.
Friday morning's agenda will focus on effective teacher and leadership preparation programs and
(Deming) -- The New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau has issued a "water advisory" for the village of Columbus.
The Columbus water system is temporarily providing water that is disinfected, but not treated by reverse osmosis to decrease elevated levels of fluoride, arsenic and other issues.
A damaged control computer for the village's reverse osmosis system prompted a request to the state Monday for a waiver to temporarily by-pass the system.
State officials said the contaminants do not pose an immediate threat to public health... and regular consumers of the water system do not need to use an alternative water supply, such as bottled water. Also, residents are advised not to boil the water, because boiling is ineffective at reducing the levels of fluoride and arsenic.
State officials are cautioning residents with specific health concerns such as compromised immune systems to consult their doctors for advice on whether to substitute bottled drinking water. The reverse osmosis system is expected to be operational Thursday.
A married couple who both hold Columbus Village trustee positions are expected to officially resign next month.
Columbus Mayor Nicole Lawson confirmed that William "Bud" Canfield and Jeane Canfield will be resigning to move to Wisconsin.
Lawson said Bud Canfield had an existing medical condition that was recently exacerbated, and they decided to move closer to family members.
Bud Canfield was in the middle of his four-year term as a trustee, and Jeane Canfield was just elected this month to a four-year term.
Bud was the last remaining trustee in office from before the gun smuggling case that rocked the border community last year and prompted the resignations of the mayor, police chief and trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez.
Lawson said the Canfields have not submitted their resignations yet, but she expects them to do so next month, effective April 30th.
She has notified Municipal League attorneys of the impending resignations.
Lawson said once the resignations are official, she will request letters of interest from Columbus residents who would like to be appointed to the village trustees. She will then select two candidates from those letters and submit her choices to the trustees for approval.
The first defendant in the gun smuggling case that involved the Columbus mayor, police chief and village trustee has been sentenced by a federal judge in Las Cruces.
Judge Robert Brack sentenced 27-year-old Vicente Carreon to 46 months in prison during a hearing Wednesday. Brack also ordered that Carreon be placed under supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.
Brack reportedly rejected a prosecutor's request that Carreon be given a stiffer sentence.
Carreon pleaded guilty to one count of smuggling firearms from the United States and one count of conspiracy -- admitting that he assisted in the smuggling into Mexico of at least 30 nine-millimeter pistols purchased from Chaparral Guns in Chaparral New Mexico.
Carreon assisted by removing serial numbers as well as U-P-C codes from firearms boxes, purchasing a backpack used in transporting the firearms and transporting the firearms to a stash house in El Paso.
Last summer, 14 people were charged in federal indictments involving arms smuggling to Mexican cartels. Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega, Mayor Eddie Espinoza, and a trustee, Blas "Woody" Gutierrez, were among the defendants charged.
Federal prosecutors say the defendants were part of a conspiracy in which straw buyers bought about 200 firearms from a dealer in Chaparral and sent them to Mexican drug gang members.