Man accused of attempting to illegally export firearms to Venezuela pleads guilty

Photo illustration of three men with guns set on table.
Photo illustration of three men with guns set on table. Getty Images/moodboard RF

Abrahán José Aguilar Sánchez, one of three Venezuelans accused of attempting to illegally export firearms and bullets to Venezuela, has pleaded guilty to the charges.

Aguilar Sánchez, 35, was the third and last of the three Venezuelans arrested in the case. He pleaded guilty Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. Alfredo Alejandro Montilla Hernández, 31, and José Alexander Gutiérrez Morales, 30, also pleaded guilty during previous court appearances.

Judge Altonaga set Aguilar Sánchez’s sentencing for April 24. She said the maximum penalty is 10 years in the federal penitentiary, but may be lower because the defendant agreed to plead guilty and thus did not force the government to go to trial. Altonaga also warned Aguilar Sánchez that he may be deported because he is not a U.S. citizen.

Montilla Hernández will be sentenced April 10 and Gutiérrez Morales on April 18. Both were arrested during the investigation in October.

Aguilar Sánchez was arrested in December and charged in connection with the case, which unfolded when federal agents initially discovered eight handguns and more than 23,500 rounds of ammunition inside boxes marked as vehicle batteries for shipment to Venezuela.

Aguilar Sánchez was arrested at Miami International Airport (MIA) shortly before attempting to board a flight to Venezuela, according to a criminal complaint that suggested he was trying to flee.

Court documents linked to Aguilar Sánchez’s arrest showed that investigators found more weapons than initially discovered. According to the document, federal agents also seized five assault rifles, two more handguns and 1,700 additional rounds of ammunition.

The case came to light in April 2016 when Customs and Border Protection agents at MIA decided to open a shipment from Maracaibo that contained empty boxes for vehicle batteries.

Agents from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, tracked it and found Montilla Hernández and Gutiérrez Morales.

Aguilar Sánchez emerged a month after the package arrived from Maracaibo, sent by a person identified in court documents as Ender Soto. According to an HSI criminal complaint, after Aguilar Sánchez arrived in Miami from Maracaibo on May 14, officials questioned him and seized his cell phone where they found the name Ender Soto.

Investigators also linked Aguilar Sánchez to the other two Venezuelans who have since pleaded guilty.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter: @AlfonsoChardy