Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
“Chemo” and “Romeo” were buddies, living at the Bow and Arrow Lodge on East Central – a spot well known to Albuquerque police officers who responded to almost 200 calls there in 2018.
Both men shared a history of felony convictions and had the tattoos to prove it.
But what brought Jose “Chemo” Gallegos and Rogelio “Romeo” Loera to the attention of federal firearms agents were the types of guns the men were showing potential customers: Glock semi-automatic pistols that had been converted to fire in full automatic mode like machine guns.
Some of the weapons could accommodate clips with up to 30 rounds, and there are “drum” magazines that hold 50 rounds.
To federal agents and local police, the area around the motel is well known for shootings, drug dealing, stolen cars and the sale of stolen property, including firearms of all sorts. The last thing they wanted was a bunch of machine guns on the street adding to the mayhem.
Making matters worse, undercover officers who have worked cases in the area said converted fully automatic handguns are almost impossible to aim once the trigger is pulled, putting not just the intended target but other people in a wide area at risk of injury or death.
Making a machine pistol
Conversion kits that allow some Glock pistols to be fired as a normal semi-automatic or on fully automatic mode originate outside the United States – in this case China.
Such kits can be found on the Internet for $70, according to federal court records. But they can sell for up to $200 on the street.
Conversion devices vary by design and appearance, but all, when properly installed on a semiautomatic Glock pistol, will allow the firearm to theoretically fire approximately 1,200 rounds a minute. The number of rounds is limited by the size of the firearm’s magazine and how quickly it can be changed out.
Installation of conversion devices is fast and simple and requires no technical expertise.
But it is illegal to have a conversion kit, even if it is not attached to a firearm, unless the owner is registered with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to own a machine gun.
Nationwide, ATF has been tracking the importation of conversion kits from China, both locally and nationally.
One company, based in Shezhen, Guangdong, China, has shipped more than 2,900 packages to various locations in the U.S., including Albuquerque, which contained conversion kits described as a “Multitool Switch.”
When agents intercepted and searched some of those packages, they found conversion kits to make Glock pistols fully automatic.
Glock doesn’t make the kits and tries to shut down advertisements for the kits when they appear on different internet sites.
Heroin and guns
“Chemo” Gallegos, 31, was living in Room 6 at the Bow and Arrow, dealing heroin and methamphetamine, according to court records.
He has three prior felony convictions for possessing and selling drugs and an impressive list of arrest warrants for failure to appear in court.
“Romeo” Loera’s criminal past was more diverse and includes convictions for burglary, auto theft and other crimes. Loera, 38, was living in Room 3.
Around the time of the investigation, Gallegos became a suspect in an armed robbery of someone at the Bow and Arrow, and police believe Loera was involved in a shootout in the parking lot, according to court documents.
The same court records claim the two men were in constant contact and appeared to share customers.
They report that Gallegos had set up surveillance cameras in the windows of his room to keep track of who came and went from the motel parking lot.
ATF agents used two different confidential informants to target them.
In November, the first confidential informant tried to make contact with Gallegos, who was too busy to handle a new customer, but Loera showed up outside Gallegos’s room.
The informant and Loera began discussing drugs and guns, and, after a brief conversation, Loera sold the federal informant a small amount of heroin and a 9mm pistol, two magazines and ammunition for $350.
In early December, the informant returned to meet with Gallegos.
The informant wore a hidden body camera during the meeting in which he bought 4 grams of heroin for $200 and a Glock .45 caliber pistol for $600 that Gallegos told him could be converted to fully automatic.
Neither man was willing to sell their own fully automatic Glocks to the informant.
In mid-December, ATF sent in a second informant who managed to buy a pistol converted to fully automatic from Loera for $700.
After that purchase, agents served search warrants on both motel rooms, confiscating weapons and arresting both men. One of the weapons was a fully automatic Glock .45-caliber handgun with a 30-bullet magazine.
According to court records, Gallegos told agents he purchased his fully automatic handgun for $400.
Loera and Gallegos both face federal weapons charges and are being held in federal detention awaiting trial. They each face up to 10 years for being a felon in possession of a firearm and Gallegos faces additional prison time for possessing a machine gun.
In February, the city filed court proceedings to have the Bow and Arrow Lodge fix safety violations and change the way it operates. The motel has 120 days to comply with city safety codes.
In another case involving conversion kits, Homeland Security agents earlier this year intercepted a package labeled “Multitool Switch” en route from China to Albuquerque as part of ATF’s national investigation into conversion kits coming out of China.
The package was addressed to Rodney Segura, 30, who was on probation for a state battery conviction.
Customs Border Protection agents searched the package and found conversion kits for Glock pistols, but they allowed the package to be delivered.
Agents interviewed people who knew Segura, and, according to court records were told he was trading guns to local gang members for marijuana.
They then served a search warrant on a storage unit Segura rented and visited almost daily.
Agents found 13 rifles, four handguns, a Glock conversion kit and 14 pounds of marijuana.
Segura, who was on probation following two guilty pleas to misdemeanors, was arrested for violating his probation and is in state custody.
He also has a felony conviction as a juvenile for second-degree murder. Court records show he received a sentence of probation.
According to state court documents, federal authorities were finalizing their investigation and expect to move forward with federal charges.