SAN ANTONIO, Texas (U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Texas) — A federal judge sentenced Former Karnes County Sheriff’s Deputy Oswaldo Bernal today to 32 months in federal prison for straw purchasing approximately 40 firearms that were subsequently trafficked to Mexico.
In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Court David A. Ezra ordered the San Antonio resident to pay a money judgment in the amount of $7,191.96 and be placed on supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term.
“Bernal betrayed his badge. He knowingly purchased handguns for an individual he knew could not legally purchase them in the U.S. and who would smuggle them into Mexico,” said U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff. “I could not agree more with Judge Ezra’s comments in court today that if any member of the public were to have purchased this many firearms in such a short time period, it would have raised red flags. But because Bernal was a law enforcement officer, he could purchase those weapons without raising suspicion.”
On March 11, 2021, Bernal pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting smuggling goods from the U.S. By pleading guilty, Bernal admitted that while employed as a Karnes County Deputy Sheriff, he purchased the firearms in 2020 from San Antonio firearms dealers under a discount program for law enforcement officers called the “Blue Label Program.” Bernal then sold those weapons to Juan Cesar Fabian Ayala-Melendez, a native of Monterrey, Mexico who was illegally residing in the U.S.
“Public trust is a critical element of accomplishing law enforcements mission. This former officer stepped outside of that public trust by committing crimes and received the proper treatment from the justice system,” said Special Agent in Charge Fred Milanowski of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Houston Field Office.
Ayala has admitted that he smuggled the firearms into Monterrey through a Laredo-based international shipping company. On March 4, 2021, Ayala pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, namely the proceeds of the weapons trafficking conspiracy, and one count of being an alien in possession of a firearm. He remains in federal custody awaiting sentencing that is scheduled for July 19, 2021.
A third co-defendant who also remains in federal custody, Yesenia Berenice De La Cerda Mendoza, faces federal charges for her role in the weapons trafficking and money laundering scheme. Her re-arraignment is set for June 17, 2021 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard B. Farrer in San Antonio.
The ATF investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew W. Kinskey and Fidel Esparza III prosecuted this case.