Alarm bells went off when a federal agent learned a package of 1,000 machine-gun parts might be headed to a Nogales, Arizona, man’s house in November.
Agents suspected Marco Antonio Peralta Vega, 35, was illegally exporting ammunition and tactical gear into Mexico. They already had tracked three shipments of body armor plates, which are restricted from being exported by federal law, to Peralta’s self-storage unit, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson.
By the time agents finished their investigation, Peralta was accused of smuggling 37,200 rounds of ammunition, 2,649 high-capacity rifle magazines, 120 body armor plates and three handguns into Mexico from March 2016 to December 2018, according to a Feb. 6 federal grand jury indictment.
Peralta pleaded not guilty Friday to one count of smuggling goods from the U.S. into Mexico.
His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
In Peralta’s case, he told federal agents in a Nov. 26 interview that he would order items and have them delivered to his Nogales, Arizona, address.
When the shipments arrived, he would pass the items to another person to be smuggled into Mexico, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations wrote in a Jan. 10 sworn affidavit.
Nearly all of the purchases were made from online retailers, according to two years of records homeland security received from a shipping company. The records showed 74 shipments, worth $64,000 in total, of ammunition, magazines, body armor, rifle scopes and laser sights billed to Peralta’s house and self-storage unit since January 2017, according to the affidavit.
The shipments were addressed to Peralta, names that did not match and PH Distributing, the business Peralta ran from his house, the special agent wrote.
The special agent wrote that Peralta also smuggled items into Mexico himself. On Dec. 13, Peralta was stopped by Mexican customs officers while driving into Nogales, Sonora, from Nogales, Arizona.
The officers seized about 500 high-capacity gun magazines from Peralta and arrested him. He was subsequently released, according to the affidavit.
From July to early January, Peralta drove across the border 87 times and the special agent believes those trips were used to smuggle items into Mexico.
During a search of Peralta’s house and vehicles, agents with homeland security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized ammunition, high-capacity magazines, a night-vision optical sight, 18 credit cards, ledgers and about $11,000 in U.S. and Mexican currency, court records show.
Peralta was released on his own recognizance, court records show. His trial is tentatively scheduled for April 2.
Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or email@example.com or on Twitter @CurtTucsonStar