COLUMBUS, N.M. (KRQE) - Several federal agencies swept through the New Mexico border town of Columbus Thursday morning arresting nearly a dozen people including the mayor, a village councilor and the chief of police who are suspected of smuggling guns into Mexico.
According to a 26-page indictment the investigation into the suspected gun smuggling operation began 15 months ago.
The indictment alleges Mayor Eddie Espinoza, Village Trustee Blas Gutierrez and eight other conspirators bought and smuggled guns including AK-47s across the border into Mexico. The indictment states Chief of Police Angelo Vega joined in the conspiracy. Investigators said the group used unmarked Columbus police vehicles to help carry out the crimes.
Later on Thursday Luna County Sheriff Raymond Cobos announced he would stop communication with the Columbus Police Department saying he wanted "to protect the integrity" of his department.
"Obviously this is a big blow to every honest elected official," Cobos said. "It's a big disappointment."
Cobos asked village officials to "shut down" the police department for now.
"My recommendation is that they reassign the officers to other duties temporarily until it's determined whether or not any other people involved in the activity," Cobos said.
Village Trustee William "Bud" Canfield said he agreed with that recommendation.
"The people in the town need to be protected so I think the best thing is to go under the sheriff's department for the time being," Canfield said. "We can straighten some of this out."
The village board scheduled a meeting for Friday afternoon to determine if they will shut down the police department temporarily. For now, New Mexico State Police are helping local police patrol the village.
The raiding parties included New Mexico State Police officers and agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Immigration Customs Enforcement officials confirmed they are working an investigation in Columbus but would not give specifics.
Columbus is located about two miles north of the international border.
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