LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - A jailed New Mexico gun store owner accused of selling weapons that made it into the hands of Mexican cartels says he is on a hunger strike.
Ian Garland wrote in a letter to the Las Cruces Sun-News that he won't eat until he is allowed visits from his lawyers and the media.
The 51-year-old pleaded guilty in July to federal charges of conspiracy and making false statements in the acquisition of firearms. He tried to withdraw his plea last month but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack denied the request.
The Chaparral, N.M., man was one of 14 border residents, including former Columbus Mayor Eddie Espinoza, who entered plea agreements in the case. One defendant is set for trial.
Authorities accused them of conspiring to smuggle about 200 firearms favored by Mexican cartels.
Garland has not been scheduled for sentencing, when he faces up to 35 years in prison. All the others who entered pleas also await sentencing.
In the Jan. 19 letter to the Sun-News, Garland said that several media outlets have tried to interview him "and all have been denied." A visit by his attorney on Dec. 24, 2011, was "at the last minute, denied," he wrote.
"I have been in a 6-by-12 room for 316 days in maximum security for making legal and lawful sales to people who have lied to me, they even admitted they lied, so why am I here?" he wrote.
Garland, an Australian native and a naturalized U.S. citizen, said he is incredibly proud to be an American. He married his wife on July 4, and signed his letter "God bless America." He said he was flabbergasted at what has happened to him in the last year.
"I won't plea to something I didn't do!" he wrote. "I want a jury to hear everything I have to say, the lies, threats, harassment."
Between January 2010 and March 2011, the 15 people allegedly conspired to smuggle about 200 firearms favored by Mexican cartels. Authorities claim they acted at least partially on the orders of Jesus "Mantequilla" Molinas, an inmate at Cereso federal prison in Juárez.
Some of the weapons were allegedly found at the scenes of a murder, a kidnapping and a drug bust in Mexican border towns.
The defendants allegedly paid Garland's store, Chaparral Guns, about $70,000 for the AK-47-type pistols and American Tactical 9 mm pistols, with the potential to sell the firearms for three times that on the other side of the border.
In a separate letter dated Jan. 3, Garland wrote that he had "no idea" the Columbus police chief, mayor and village trustee were doing anything illegal.
"I made legal and lawful sales to people who lied to me," he wrote. "What was I to think when they drove to my business in uniform, in a police car, city cars, bring the mayor, police chief? I was telling everyone how happy I was, they did the paperwork, passed the FBI background check, why would I not trust them?"
In his request to withdraw his plea, Garland said he felt "he was pressured into lying to himself and pleading guilty" to the count.
He also said that "the pressure and potential consequences of not pleading were too much and this forced him to plea(d) to Count 1, the conspiracy, when he otherwise did not believe in (his) heart that he was guilty."
The only defendant who is scheduled to go to trial is Gabrielle Gutierrez, the wife of former village trustee Blas "Woody" Gutierrez, who has pleaded guilty in the case. Gutierrez, who is free on conditional release pending trial, faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News
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