Crime

Five Venezuelans charged with illegally shipping firearms, ammunition to Venezuela

In a file photo, Customs and Border Protection officials review typical evidence at a seized weapons store in Miami-Dade County.
In a file photo, Customs and Border Protection officials review typical evidence at a seized weapons store in Miami-Dade County. Miami Herald File

A federal grand jury has indicted five Venezuelans, charging them with illegally shipping firearms and ammunition to Venezuela since 2013, according to Miami federal court records.

The grand jury indictment was filed Feb. 16, about a week after the third and last of three Venezuelans previously linked to the case pleaded guilty.

The new case adds more detail to an investigation that federal agents have been developing since last year when they discovered the earlier case involving the three Venezuelans who pleaded guilty. The new case against five additional Venezuelans not only contains new information but also shows that illegal exports to Venezuela of arms and ammunition actually took place. Previous allegations against the three Venezuelans were that they attempted to ship firearms and ammunition, but were unsuccessful.

In the new case, investigators allege that the five defendants — Ender Enrique Soto Hernández, Ender Alberto Soto Hernández, Luis Antonio Urdaneta Pozo, Wilmer Onelis Hinestroza Pereira and Alcibiades DeJesús Palmar Narváez — bought or stole and then shipped 10 guns and five rifles as well as at least 54 pounds of ammunition. According to the indictment, the ammo was concealed in luggage carried on flights to Maracaibo,Venezuela, from Miami.

“Defendants Ender Enrique Soto Hernández and Ender Alberto Soto Hernández exported ammunition by packing it in their luggage for flights from Miami, Florida to Venezuela,” the indictment says.

Court documents also contain an indication of how investigators figured out a connection between the two cases: the name Ender Soto.

Soto was the man in Maracaibo who last April sent a package to Miami containing empty boxes for vehicle batteries. Investigators tracked the package and it led them to two South Florida Venezuelans — Alfredo Montilla Hernández and José Alexander Gutiérrez Morales — who later pleaded guilty.

They were arrested in October after delivering to a shipping company vehicle battery boxes, some containing eight pistols and 23,500 rounds of ammunition, according to a criminal complaint in that case.

But it was the third Venezuelan in the prior case, Abrahán José Aguilar Sánchez, who perhaps contributed the most to dismantling the arms trafficking ring, according to court records. Louis Casuso, Aguilar Sánchez’s lawyer, told the court that his client would cooperate with investigators.

When Aguilar Sánchez was arrested in December, investigators who searched his cellphone found the name Ender Soto in his contacts list.

The new indictment includes the names of Ender Enrique Soto Hernández and Ender Alberto Soto Hernández. Although it does not say whether they are related, a person familiar with the case said they are brothers and that one of them originally resided in South Florida but was deported.

Court records do not say whether the five indicted Venezuelans were detained in Miami or if they are in Venezuela. However, none of the five had an attorney listed in the court docket, usually an indication that the defendant might not be in custody.

A spokesman for Homeland Security Investigations, a unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said he could not comment on the case because it’s still under investigation.

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