LAS CRUCES — Former Columbus village trustee Blas “Woody” Gutierrez’s sister and a cousin were both sentenced to time in federal prison Monday for their roles in a conspiracy to smuggle weapons to Mexico that federal prosecutors say was led by the disgraced former elected official.
Federal Judge Robert Brack sentenced the former trustee’s 23-year-old sister, Eva Gutierrez, a Doña Ana Community College student, to 21 months in prison. In July 2011, Eva Gutierrez pleaded guilty to conspiracy and a single count of making false statements on federal gun-purchase documents.
Blas Gutierrez’s 27-year-old cousin Ricardo Gutierrez, who is married and has two children, received a 27-month sentence for three counts of making false statements, three counts of firearms smuggling and conspiracy.
In handing down sentences before about a dozen family and friends of the defendants, Brack noted that, outside of their involvement in the smuggling case, the pair appeared to be responsible citizens. Ricardo Gutierrez’s only previous encounters with the law involved speeding tickets. Eva Gutierrez has no prior criminal record and is maintaining a 3.8 grade-point average.
Brack said the two cases illustrated how drug-trafficking organizations “don’t have to go looking for monsters” to enable criminal enterprises to operate. “They just have to talk otherwise good people into doing some little things,” Brack said.
In January 2011, Ricardo Gutierrez bought three semi-automatic weapons, which federal officials have described as AK-47 type pistols, that showed up one month later at the scene of a triple homicide in Ciudad Juarez.
Another of the weapons he bought in January 2011 surfaced two months later during a Juarez drug seizure, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ricardo Gutierrez told Brack that he has tried to be a better person and citizen since his arrest.
“I’m not trying to blame nobody. I know I did a mistake. I’m just sorry,” Ricardo Gutierrez said. “I didn’t realize this (terrible) business until it was already too late.”
Before sentencing Eva Gutierrez, Brack said, “Some mistakes are bigger than others, some have higher price tags, and this is one of them.”
Defense attorney Steven Almanza said his client, Eva Gutierrez, was not a major part of the conspiracy that supplied members of La Linea, the muscle for the Juárez drug cartel, with about 200 weapons and ammunition between January 2010 and March 2011.
“Her older brother pressured her into doing something stupid, and now this young lady will spend the next 21 months in prison,” Almanza said.
In a statement before sentencing, Eva Gutierrez told Brack that her brother “never told me anything” about the gun-smuggling operation but that, when she joined him and his wife in buying 10 weapons from a Chaparral dealer, “I knew he was up to no good.”
Both Eva and Ricardo Gutierrez were recruited as straw buyers, people who falsely claim on federal paperwork to be the true buyers of weapons that are actually intended for others.
Of 13 people convicted for some role in the case, only Blas Gutierrez and former Columbus police chief Angelo Vega still await sentencing.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal