Four central Indiana residents, including two from Columbus, are accused of trafficking dozens of guns and thousands of pounds of illegal drugs with a Mexico-based drug cartel.
Hermion Torres, 35, of Seymour; David Lane and Regina Compton, both 40 and of Columbus; and Christopher Baker, 37, of Franklin, were indicted May 30 on federal drug and firearms charges.
The indictment was unsealed this week and announced Thursday by Joseph Hogsett, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.
The indictment alleges that from at least 2009 Torres orchestrated an operation in which Lane, Compton and Baker would purchase powerful rifles from Indianapolis-area gun dealers that he would exchange with the “Gulf Cartel” for methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine. The drugs would be distributed throughout southern Indiana, western Kentucky and elsewhere, according to the indictment.
The cartel, also known as the “Cartel del Golfo,” is an international criminal organization responsible for armed, violent drug trafficking and other criminal activities in Mexico and the United States, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Members of the cartel have been known to be heavily armed and often use guns in connection with their criminal activities, which in the past have included kidnapping, murder, robbery and extortion.
At least 44 firearms — including 15 rifles and 29 assault rifles — were purchased in 2010 from federally licensed firearms dealers in Greenwood, Plainfield and Indianapolis. Hogsett said the businesses were operating within the law because they were unaware the weapons were purchased under false pretenses.
Lane, Compton and Baker reportedly acted as “straw purchasers,” which means they bought the guns on behalf of Torres. He could not buy the firearms because he is a convicted felon.
“In the scheme of things, (Lane, Compton and Baker) were an intricate part of the conspiracy, but they were more rank and file,” Hogsett said. “Mr. Torres down the road in Seymour was running the show.”
The indictment alleges that Torres arranged for the firearms to be transported to cartel members in Texas and Mexico. In exchange, he received more than 2,200 pounds of marijuana, 11 pounds of cocaine and more than 1 pound of methamphetamine, according to the indictment.
“This trafficking network probably included southern Indiana, including Bartholomew County,” Hogsett said.
The indictment cites a meeting May 22 in Columbus during which Torres met with two other people and discussed trading firearms provided by one of the individuals for meth provided by Torres.
Hogsett said the investigation began March 16, 2011, when authorities in southern Texas recovered a duffel bag on the banks of the Rio Grande River that contained assault rifles, ammunition and an improvised explosive device made from two grenades. All were destined for the Gulf Cartel in Mexico. One of the firearms was a Romanian-made AK-47 assault rifle purchased in Indianapolis.
Indiana has gained a reputation of being an “import” state for illegal drugs and an “export” state for guns, Hogsett said.
All four defendants are U.S. citizens and have appeared for their initial hearings on the charges. Their trial is scheduled for Aug. 13.
Torres is being detained in a federal prison until the trial. Lane, Compton and Baker have been released from custody but are being monitored by federal authorities.
Torres and Lane face a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life imprisonment if convicted of the charges.
Compton faces up to 20 years, and Baker faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Four area residents face federal drug and firearms charges for their alleged involvement in trafficking with a Mexican drug cartel. They are accused of making “straw purchases,” where guns were bought by a third party, for someone who cannot purchase the weapons legally.
A breakdown of the charges:
Hermion Torres, 35, of Seymour: drug conspiracy, firearms trafficking conspiracy, felon in possession of a firearm, three counts of firearm straw purchase
David Lane, 40, of Columbus: Possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, two counts of firearm straw purchase
Regina Compton, 40, of Columbus: Two counts of firearm straw purchase
Christopher Baker, 37, of Franklin: One count of firearm straw purchase
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