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Gunrunners

Investigating the saga of the WASR-10, an AK-47 knockoff and weapon of choice for Mexico's cartels. A Web-exclusive report.

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THE DEALER

George Iknadosian
George Iknadosian
Moved to Phoenix to escape Calif.’s strict gun laws

THE TRAFFICKER

Cesar Gamez
Cesar Bojorguez- Gamez
Part of a network trafficking guns to Mexico

THE TRAFFICKER

Hugo Gamez
Hugo Gamez
Part of a network moving guns to Mexico

STRAW BUYER

Grant Dorman
Grant Dorman
Signed for 13 WASR-10s from X Caliber Guns

STRAW BUYER

Anthony Uzeta
Anthony Uzeta
Bought 36 WASR-10 assault rifles over 30 days

STRAW BUYER

Steven Fouts
Steven Fouts
Told he’d earn $100 for every gun delivered

STRAW BUYER

Daniel Pauli
Daniel Pauli
He was 19 and Fouts' high school friend

STRAW BUYER

Nolan Eddy
Nolan Eddy
A Facebook profile; a fan of Hip Hop/Alternative Rock

STRAW BUYER

Martin Llamas
Martin Llamas
Bought 13 assault rifles on three visits to X Caliber Guns

STRAW BUYER

Natividad Chacon
Natividad Chacon
Bought 20 WASR-10s during four X Caliber visits

STRAW BUYER

Camron Galloway
Camron Galloway
Bought 13 WASR-10s in three visits to X Caliber
George Iknadosian
George Iknadosian

Since he was a little boy, Iknadosian had "been crazy about guns," says his sister, Sylvia Mouradian. She told investigators all of the family was in the insurance business, but Iknadosian, who has three older brothers, followed his passion for firearms.

In the mid-1980s, while in his early 20s, Iknadosian began work at The Stockade, a gun store in Long Beach, Calif. He became the store’s manager, but "always wanted to be in business for himself," the Stockade’s owner, Kathy Mitchell, told investigators.

Iknadosian opened X Caliber Guns in Westminster, Calif. in 1995. Yet, he grew frustrated with California’s strict gun laws and the required paperwork, according to several of his acquaintances in their interviews with law enforcement.

With the help of a $75,000 loan from his sister, Iknadosian moved X Caliber to Phoenix, Ariz., where the laws are less restrictive, in 2004. Business grew quickly, and Iknadosian’s 2008 sales were on pace to nearly double those in 2005, according to Phoenix police department reports.

The ATF began to investigate Iknadosian in March 2008 on suspicion that he was knowingly selling to straw purchasers in two separate trafficking networks. The ATF persuaded one straw purchaser, Anthony Uzeta, to wear a wire and set up straw purchases to undercover law enforcement.

On the morning of May 6, 2008, ATF agents arrested Iknadosian at his home while he was watering his lawn. He was indicted on 21 charges, including conspiracy to traffic weapons, money laundering and 17 counts of fraud. The case was thrown out when Judge Robert Gottsfield ruled that Iknadosian could not be charged with those felonies because the guns did not go to prohibited possessors.

Iknadosian's lawyer, Thomas Baker, says Iknadosian never knew the guns were going to Mexico. Iknadosian thought the straw purchasers were buying them for resale at gun shows, Baker says.

Iknadosian is currently involved in a civil lawsuit [PDF] against the government for malicious prosecution and is fighting to recover $2.2 million in seized assets, according to Baker.

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Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez
Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez

"I get a call and they tell me to get guns," Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez told ATF agents Hope MacAllister and Clayton Merrill during his arrest.

That was the only statement Bojorguez-Gamez made to investigators. One law enforcement official said Bojorguez-Gamez still had family in Mexico whom he was trying to protect. Without his cooperation, they were unable to learn more about how the traffickers were bringing the guns into Mexico. It was likely Bojorguez-Gamez only acquired the guns and that another part of the network dealt with transporting the weapons over the border, according to an official involved in the case.

Bojorguez-Gamez paid for the guns and then had straw purchasers fill out the paperwork. Typically Bojorguez-Gamez picked the guns up from the store, but he would occasionally meet the straw purchasers in a Circle K parking lot or at a nearby park to pick up the weapons. Bojorguez-Gamez promised the straw purchasers $100 for every gun, but failed to deliver on more than one occasion, according to court testimony.

Bojorguez-Gamez recruited one straw purchaser, Steven Fouts, into his network at a Wal-Mart simply by asking the young man if he wanted to make any extra money. His girlfriend, Carmen Sanchez, recruited a family member’s boyfriend as another straw purchaser. Sanchez, also known as "Peekachu," later took that straw purchaser to X Caliber, according to an ATF investigative report.

Many of the firearms obatined through Bojorguez-Gamez’s network of straw purchasers would be seized at crime scenes and implicated in lethal shootouts in Mexico.

On the morning of May 6, 2008, members of the Phoenix Police Department pulled Bojorguez-Gamez over while driving with Sanchez and her two small children. He was placed under arrest on charges including conducting an illegal enterprise, misconduct involving weapons, money laundering, forgery, and fraudulent schemes.

Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez pleaded guilty to a felony charge of Attempted Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices and was sentences to 2.5 years in prison. Bojorguez-Gamez was released in April 2010.

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Hugo Gamez
Hugo Gamez

Hugo Gamez served as both a buyer and recruiter for the gun trafficking operation run by his brother, Cesar, who was acquiring high volumes of firearms considered to be the "weapons of choice" for the drug cartels.

According to ATF investigative files and the testimony of multiple collaborating straw buyers, Gamez approached several of his coworkers at the Gordon-Darby vehicle emissions testing center in Phoenix, offering them $100 if they fraudulently claimed to be the purchasers of firearms on behalf of Cesar. At least six Gordon-Darby employees accepted Gamez’s proposal, forming the core group of straw puchasers behind the illegal enterprise.

On May 6, 2008, Hugo Gamez was arrested by ATF Agents. During questioning he claimed to have purchased and sold only 10 AK-47s at a profit of $20 - $25 each, and stated that he knew nothing about rifles going to Mexico. Gamez said he had sold his rifles to "people," and would not provide any names, but identified George Iknadosian from a photo line-up as the owner of the gun store from which he purchased the weapons.

Hugo Gamez pleaded guilty to the Class 3 felony of Attempted Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices. On October 28, 2008, he was sentenced to three years probation and a six-month deferred jail sentence.

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Grant Dorman
Grant Dorman

Dorman was first straw buyer working for the Gamez brothers that ATF agents Hope MacAllister and Clayton Merrill interviewed.

MacAllister and Merrill noticed that Dorman had purchased a large number of assault rifles while they were reviewing X Caliber’s records as part of another investigation. When they went to interview Dorman at home, where he lived with his mother, Dorman stated he had bought one AK-47 and sold it for a profit at a gun show. When the agents said they knew he had purchased more than one gun, Dorman admitted that he bought a few guns for someone in exchange for $300-$400.

Dorman stated he became involved in the Gamez trafficking organization when Anthony Uzeta, his friend and coworker at a Gordon Darby vehicle emissions testing facility, asked Dorman if he wanted to make any extra money. Dorman said he did, and on Feb. 18, 2008 he slept over at Uzeta’s house so that they could go to X Caliber Guns when it opened before going to work.

The next morning Uzeta told Iknadosian that they were there to pick up guns for Cesar. Iknadosian had the rifles set aside on the counter and the section of ATF form 4473 that describes the firearms being purchased was already filled out.

Uzeta helped Dorman compete the rest of the form because, despite graduating from Thunderbird High School, Dorman could not read or write. Uzeta and Dorman each signed for seven WASR-10 assault rifles and left with the 14 guns without paying Iknadosian anything. Later they exchanged the guns with Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez for cash.

Dorman signed for a total of 13 WASR-10s on two visits to X Caliber Guns. On the second visit Iknadosian told Uzeta and Dorman to be careful because he thought his store was being watched.

Dorman testified that he did not learn the guns were headed to Mexico until his mother told him while visiting him in jail that she had seen a television news report about the case.

"And that’s when I knew I really screwed up," Dorman testified. TOP

Anthony Uzeta
Anthony Uzeta

Uzeta became the key informant in the case against Iknadosian.

ATF agents MacAllister and Merrill interviewed Uzeta after Grant Dorman told them Uzeta had recruited him to buy guns for a man named Cesar. After reviewing the records MacAllister and Merrill saw that Uzeta had purchased 36 WASR-10 assault rifles from X Caliber Guns between Feb. 9 and March 8, 2008.

When the agents asked Uzeta about the high volume of guns he had bought in less than one month, Uzeta told them he was reselling the guns for a profit. The agents told Uzeta they already knew who the guns were for and where they were headed. At that point Uzeta admitted he was lying and agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Uzeta told the agents that he worked at Gordon Darby with a man named Hugo Gamez whose brother, Cesar, looks for people to buy AK-47 style rifles for him. Uzeta would go through Hugo to contact Cesar, also known as "C." On other ocassions Cesar would contact Uzeta directly from a blocked number to tell him to go to X Caliber.

Uzeta would go to X Caliber where Iknadosian would be waiting for him with the guns. Uzeta would tell Iknadosian that he was there for Cesar, fill out the paperwork and leave with the guns without paying Iknadosian anything.

Uzeta went to X Caliber Guns wearing a wire five times in April 2008. Those wiretaps provided the ATF and Phoenix police with their strongest evidence against Iknadosian. In addition to facilitating straw purchases by two undercover police officers, Iknadosian appeared to advise Uzeta about how to avoid arrest by the ATF.

Although Iknadosian told Uzeta, "I'm not supposed to be advising," he tells Uzeta not to take payment in drugs, to only purchase two guns at a time and what days of the week to move the guns.

Iknadosian's attorney, Thomas Baker, says Uzeta "baited" his client into making statements that appear to sound incriminating. In statements that seem to indicate Iknadosian's knowledge of an illegal enterprise, his client was referring to other cases, Baker argues.

In exchange for his cooperation, Uzeta was not charged with any crimes in the case.

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Steven Fouts
Steven Fouts

Steven Fouts didn’t know that the ATF already had X Caliber Guns under surveillance and that he was listed as a suspected straw buyer when he pulled put of the store’s parking lot with five WASR-10 assault rifles in his Dodge Dakota on March 14, 2008. Phoenix police were notified that the truck was leaving after Fouts and his two friends loaded it with the long cardboard boxes containing the rifles. The police pulled Fouts over for speeding, failing to signal and having a cracked windshield.

ATF Agent Clayton Merrill arrived at the scene and began to question the teen and his two passengers, Daniel Pauli and a friend who was only along for the ride. Fouts quickly agreed to cooperate with the agents after being read his Miranda rights.

Fouts told Merrill the guns were for Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez whom he had met in January at a local Wal-Mart. Bojorguez-Gamez had approached Fouts at the store, asked him his age and if he would be interested in making extra money. Bojorguez-Gamez explained that he would pay Fouts $100 for every gun he signed for and delivered to him. Fouts agreed, gave Gamez his number and waited for the call.

A couple weeks later, Bojorguez-Gamez called Fouts and instructed him to go to X Caliber Guns to pick up some guns, Fouts told investigators. February 28, 2008, Fouts entered X Caliber and told Iknadosian that he needed guns for Cesar. Iknadosian had the guns waiting in their packages by the register. Fouts then filled out the paperwork and left with two WASR-10 assault rifles without giving Iknadosian any money for the weapons. Later that day Cesar went to Fouts’ apartment, picked up the weapons and paid him $200 for his trouble.

Fouts returned to X Caliber on March 7, 2008 and repeated the same routine, although on this ocassion he simply told Iknadosian, "C." Iknadosian then handed him the firearms purchase form for the weapons without asking for payment.

Fouts pleaded guilty to one felony count of possession of a forgery device and was sentenced to 18 months probation.

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Daniel Pauli
Daniel Pauli

"Oh my God, there’s cops behind us," Steven Fouts said from the front seat. Daniel Pauli, a 19-year-old high school friend of Fouts was in the back seat with five WASR-10 assault rifles he had just signed for at X Caliber Guns.

"And then so, of course, I’m freaking out and then we get pulled over," Pauli testified.

The officer asked Fouts if there were any weapons in the car. Fouts gestured over his shoulder to the five boxes stacked in the back seat. Fouts told the officer they had just left a gun store and that the guns belonged to Pauli. When the officer asked Pauli what type of guns they were, Pauli said he didn’t know. When the officer asked how much they cost Pauli again said he didn’t know. When the officer asked how he was able to buy five guns without knowing what they were or what they cost, Pauli shrugged.

"I then explained to Daniel this all sounded very strange to me," Officer Hillman wrote in his report.

Pauli explained that Fouts had called him and told him that he could make extra money by signing for some guns. Pauli, who was working for a moving company, agreed. They had gone to X Caliber where Fouts spoke to Iknadosian and Pauli filled out the paperwork before they left with the five rifles.

Pauli never met with either of the Gamez brothers but he stated under oath that Fouts told him, "somebody would take [the guns] and send them to Mexico." Fouts, on the other hand testified he had no idea where the guns were going.

Pauli pleaded guilty in state court and was sentenced to 18 months probation for agreeing to testify. According to his testimony, he and Fouts are no longer friends.

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Nolan Eddy
Nolan Eddy

Nolan Eddy is a fairly typical young, suburban man. According to his Facebook profile, he is a fan of Hip Hop and Alternative Rock who enjoys watching Ultimate Fighting Championship and Two and a Half Men. After graduating in 2005 from Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria, Ariz., he lived at home and worked entry-level jobs.

It was at one such job that this otherwise typical young man met Hugo Gamez and became involved in an international gun smuggling operation. Hugo Gamez worked with Eddy at a Gordon-Darby emissions testing facility. One day, Gamez approached Eddy at work and asked if he would be interested in making extra money filling out the paperwork for firearms purchases.

After consulting with his fiancee, Cecily Mann, Eddy decided they could use the money and agreed to work with the Gamez brothers. As with the other straw buyers in the Gamez network, Eddy was to be paid $100 for each firearm transaction.

In five visits to X Caliber Guns Eddy filled out ATF Form 4473 in the purchase of 23 WASR 10s and five Bushmaster Carbon 15s.

Eddy testified that each of the Gamez brothers told him the guns were headed to Mexico where they had a specific window of time in which to exploit a loophole in border security at the Nogales point of entry. However, under cross examination by Iknadosian’s lawyer, James Baker, Eddy was unclear as to when and where this conversation took place.

Eddy testified that, on one occasion, he sent his fiancee, Cecily Mann, into X Caliber to buy five rifles. He did this without consulting the Gamez brothers and Eddy was unable to get payment for the guns.

At the time of Iknadosian’s trial Eddy was living with his father and working at Subway.

Eddy pleaded guilty to possession of a forgery device, a class 6 felony, and received 18 months probation on April, 16, 2009.

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Martin Llamas
Martin Llamas

Llamas was another straw buyer Hugo Gamez recruited at the Gordon-Darby emissions testing center. Gamez approached Llamas, who was 19 at the time, in the break room and asked him if he would be interested in making money on a side job. Llamas asked what kind of work it was and Gamez explained that he would have to sign some paperwork for guns and that he would be paid on the spot. Llamas agreed to work with Hugo Gamez and his brother Cesar for $100 for every gun he signed for.

According to Llamas' later testimony, Hugo Gamez accompanied Llamas when he first went to X Caliber Guns on January 30, 2008. When they entered the store, Iknadosian asked Gamez, "Is this the guy that’s going to buy the guns?" Gamez and Iknadosian then had a whispered conversation before Iknadosian instructed Llamas on how to fill out ATF Form 4473 for the purchase of six Romanian WASR-10 assault rifles.

"I didn’t know what I was filling out and I was told what I was filling, and I was told how to fill it out," Llamas testified.

In all, Llamas bought 13 assault rifles on three visits to X Caliber Guns. When Llamas told Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez that he wanted to quit after the third visit, Gamez threatened to send accomplices to Llamas’ home to beat him up if he didn’t continue to cooperate.

Llamas proved to have a poor and confused recollection of events under Baker’s cross examination at Iknadosian’s trial. For example, Llamas stated he never discussed firearms with either of the Gamez brothers -- a statement clearly at odds with the rest of his testimony.

At the time of the trial Llamas was living with his parents and working at Little Caesar’s Pizza.

Llamas pleaded guilty to the felony count of possession of a forgery device on September 5, 2008, and the judge sentenced him to 18 months probation.

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Natividad Chacon
Natividad Chacon

Chacon was 19 years old and living at home after dropping out of high school when Hugo Gamez introduced him to his brother Cesar at a party in late 2007. Cesar asked Chacon if he was interested in making extra money. Chacon said he was and Cesar told him he would contact him in the future with the details.

Chacon met with Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez at he Sinaloa Restaurant near X Caliber. Gamez explained how his business worked. Chacon simply had to fill out the paperwork for the purchase of firearms and he would be paid $100 per gun.

"They just told me that I had to sign the paperwork," Chacon testified. "And that was it: just sign the paperwork and we’ll buy and pick it up later."

In all, Chacon bought 20 WASR-10 Romanian assault rifles during the four trips he made to X Caliber Guns between December 12, 2007 and February 16, 2008.

At the time of his 2009 testimony Chacon was working at Wal-Mart and continuing to live with his parents.

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Camron Galloway
Camron Galloway

Galloway graduated from Premier High School, a Phoenix charter school, with Martin Llamas, whom he described as being like a little brother to him. He worked at the same Gordon-Darby testing facility as Hugo Gamez, Martin Llamas, Nolan Eddy and Natividad Chacon.

Gamez approached Galloway in the break room and asked him if he would be interested in making money signing for a gun. Galloway refused, but after thinking about it for a couple days he told Gamez that he would do it and Gamez put him in touch with his brother, Cesar.

Cesar Bojorguez-Gamez went with Galloway on his first visit to X Caliber Guns, Galloway testified. When they entered, Iknadosian asked Gamez, "Is this one of the new guys?" Gamez said yes, and Galloway then filled out ATF Form 4473 for the firearms purchase.

Iknadosian called in to verify that Galloway was a legal purchaser, and he quickly got approval to sell to him.

"When they go that fast, you’ve got a good one," Iknadosian told Cesar, according to Galloway's testimony.

Although Galloway didn’t know Cesar was trafficking the guns to Mexico, he suspected that he was engaged in an illegal enterprise. Cesar told Galloway everything was legal and that he didn’t want to buy more than 20 guns a month in his own name because the ATF would get suspicious. "I asked him, why would they get suspicious if everything’s legit?" Galloway testified.

In all, Galloway purchased 13 WASR-10 assault rifles in three visits to X Caliber Guns. In exchange for his testimony and a felony guilty plea, Galloway was sentenced to 18 months probation.

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Posted February 3, 2011

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