(SEYMOUR) - A 33-year-old Seymour man accused of trading guns to a Mexican cartel in exchange for drugs to distribute in southern Indiana was arrested in June, a federal official said Thursday.
"In our world, this is organized crime," U.S. Attorney Joseph H. Hogsett said about the investigation that led to the arrest of Hermion Torres on June 22 in Seymour.
Torres and three others, Christopher Baker, 37, Franklin, and David Lane, 40, and Regina Compton, 40, both of Columbus, were charged with seven felony counts in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury that met in late May and June in Evansville.
That indictment was sealed until Wednesday because the investigation was ongoing, Hogsett said. Hogsett announced the arrests on Thursday morning in Indianapolis.
According to the allegations against Torres, the Seymour resident was involved in activity in which he took guns purchased in Indiana and other states and traded those guns for drugs with the Gulf Cartel, also known as Cartel del Golfo, Hogsett said.
"On March 16, 2011, law enforcement in south Texas recovered a duffle bag, literally on the banks of the Rio Grande," Hogsett said during an interview at The Tribune on Thursday afternoon. "And inside that bag they found 10 assault rifles, rifle magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition."
One of the guns, a Romanian-made AK-47, was found to have been purchased in Indianapolis. Its discovery eventually led investigators to Torres, Hogsett said.
Drugs for guns
Instead of taking money for the guns, investigators believe Torres, also known as "Bear" or "Oso" (the Spanish word for Bear), received cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. He would then bring the drugs back to Indiana for distribution throughout the central and southern parts of the Hoosier state and Kentucky, Hogsett said.
The indictment alleges Lane, Baker and Compton purchased weapons for Torres because as a convicted felon, he could not do so. Torres in turn would provide those purchasing the guns with money or controlled substances, according to the indictment.
At least one other person purchased guns for Torres, but that person has not been indicted at this time, Hogsett said.
Hogsett said investigators believe the arrests of the four means one thing.
"We believe the conspiracy has now been dismantled," Hogsett said.
He said although there may have been only four people involved in the conspiracy, their activities qualified as organized crime.
"It was a sophisticated well-organized scheme," he said.
None of the weapons were used against anyone in Indiana, Hogsett said, but there was a potential for violence when the guns wound up in the hands of a Mexican drug cartel involved in criminal activities in Mexico and the United States.
The indictments alleged Torres purchased at least 15 rifles and 29 assault rifles from various federally licensed firearms dealers in Greenwood, Plainfield and Indianapolis. That activity started as early as the summer of 2010, Hogsett said.
Torres enlisted Lane, Compton and Baker to purchase the guns for him, a practice known as making a "straw purchase."
Lane and Compton each face two federal charges of firearm straw purchases, and Baker faces a single count of the same charge. Lane also faces a charge of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.
Torres faces charges of drug conspiracy, firearms trafficking conspiracy, felon in possession of a firearm and three counts of firearm straw purchases.
The drug conspiracy charge carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison, while the firearms conspiracy charge carries a potential penalty of five years in prison. The felon in possession of a firearm charge carries a maximum 10 year prison term.
Hogsett said the gun dealers did nothing wrong by selling the guns to Lane, Compton and Baker.
According to the indictment, on one instance in late November 2010, about 650 pounds of marijuana were transported hidden in a legitimate load of materials in a semitrailer from Mexico to Indiana, for distribution by Torres and others. In March 2011, Torres is accused of possessing about 17½ pounds of methamphetamine, which he sold to others to sell, records state.
Hogsett said it's becoming more and more common these days to see someone trading guns for drugs or drugs for guns.
"Money is still the currency of the drug trade," however, Hogsett said.
He said the arrest of Torres and the others involved is an example of law enforcement's efforts to take down organized crime.
He compared it to the recent arrests of 42 members of the Outlaw motorcycle gang in Indianapolis. Most of those people were arrested on a wide variety of charges including gun trafficking, money laundering, witness tampering and illegal gambling.
Hogsett it also has become clear Indiana has developed a reputation for importing its drugs from other places as well as a state where it's easier to purchase guns.
Captain Carl Lamb of Seymour Police Department said Thursday officers assisted federal immigration authorities with the arrest of Torres on June 22 in what he was told was part of an ongoing investigation.
Local police also assist¬ed with a search of Torres' Pin Oak Drive home that day.
"Some documents and records were found," Lamb said. "No weapons or drugs were found."
Lamb said local police "didn't have a whole lot of dealings" with Torres.
" We believe the conspiracy has now been dismantled ... It was a sophisticated well-organized scheme." said Joseph H. Hogsett U.S. District Attorney.
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