Last week, former Columbus Police Chief Angelo Vega admitted in federal court to running background checks and license plates, as well as purchasing thousands of dollars worth of law enforcement gear, including body armor and bullet-proof vests for the Juarez Cartel.
Though Vega claimed that he could not remember exactly how much the cartel paid him for his services, he was reportedly receiving more than $2,000 a month for his illicit activities.
In August 2011, Vega pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge in U.S. Federal Court in Las Cruces.
In March 2011, he was arrested along with the Columbus mayor and a city councilman, as well as several others on federal firearms trafficking charges. The 10 arrests were the result of a year-long investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, between January 2010 and March 2011, all of those charged engaged in a conspiracy to purchase firearms to be smuggled into Mexico. During the investigation, the defendants made so-called 'straw purchases' of about 200 AK-47 rifles and 9mm pistols from Chaparral Guns.
The weapons have been found at numerous murder scenes in Mexico.
Vega is currently testifying against one of his co-conspirators.
In July 2011, Mayor Eddie Espinoza pleaded guilty to conspiracy, three counts of making false statements in the acquisition of firearms and three counts of smuggling firearms from the United States.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Brack sentenced Espinoza to 51 months in prison.
The Albuquerque Journal reported:
Vega’s boss in the illicit operation, former village trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez, testified that he had village Mayor Eddie Espinosa approach Vega in 2010 to see if he was willing to work for the cartel.
Vega also received $1,500 each time he allowed the cartel members to use village vehicles – including police vehicles – to deliver drugs, pick up guns and pick up money from marijuana sales on top of the $2,000 a month the cartel was paying him, Gutierrez testified.
Columbus, which sits on the U.S./Mexican border, has had nine police chiefs since March 2006.