Truck Wreck Triggers Gun-Smuggling Probe

Feds Investigate Denver-To-Guatemala Gun-Running Scheme

An Aurora shipping firm and Colorado residents are under federal investigation after a Texas truck wreck revealed a Denver-to-Guatemala gun-smuggling scheme.

Investigators discovered 11 handguns, concealed inside stereo speakers and a television, that were boxed for delivery on a Penske truck leased by the Transportes Zuleta office in Aurora, according to a search warrant filed Nov. 9 in U.S. District Court in Denver.

The search warrant affidavit quoted a man caught trying to buy guns from federal undercover agents in 2009 saying that "lots of people are smuggling guns from the Denver, Colo., area to Guatemala using" the Miami-based Transportes Zuleta.

The current case began when law enforcement officers clearing debris after the rental truck's January 2009 weather-related accident in the Texas Panhandle discovered a box containing seven handguns hidden inside home stereo speakers, according to the affidavit written by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. A further search revealed four more handguns concealed in a boxed television.

Read the federal search warrant

One box's shipping invoice showed it was sent by Joel Marsh of Longmont to a woman in Guatemala, the affidavit said. The invoice said the box contained used electronics and a new car stereo.

Another box was shipped by Victor Vargas of Gillette, Wyo., to a different woman in Guatemala, the affidavit said.

In February 2009 interview, Marsh told ICE agents he sent the box for a friend, named Oscar Chavez, whom he used to work with in Longmont, the affidavit said.

"Marsh stated, as far as he knew, the box contained two JBL home speakers, a car stereo, a football and a soccer ball," the affidavit said.

Marsh said Chavez told him the shipment was going to his aunt's Guatemalan home where Chavez would reclaim it once he arrived in the country, the affidavit said.

In August 2009, a man identified as Oscar Morales-Morales was detained after he paid federal undercover agents $1,800 for three Beretta pistols, the affidavit said. The man told the agents he planned to smuggle the guns to a cousin in Guatemala.

"Morales-Morales stated that he was going to hide the guns in a box of clothing and send the package with [Transportes Zuleta] to Guatemala," the affidavit said. "Morales-Morales continued by stating that lots of people are smuggling guns from the Denver, Colo., area to Guatemala using TZ."

On Nov. 9, ICE agents received consent from the manager of the Aurora Transportes Zuleta office to use Casey, a dog trained to detect explosives and weapons, to search boxes in their warehouse, the affidavit said.

The dog alerted agents to the presence of gun powder or explosives in three boxes bound for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the affidavit said. But agents found no contraband when they opened the boxes.