“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat
Two Cleveland men sold some 90 guns, including some so-called ghost guns, to undercover agents investigating gun-smuggling to the Dominican Republic and to Mexican drug cartels, according to court records.
Yuendry Rodriguez Hilario and Saleh Yusuf Saleh sold the guns, including at least one automatic gun, after a suspected gun smuggler in the Dominican Republic hooked the two up with undercover agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to court records.
Some of the guns were made with kits, typically called ghost guns because they have no serial numbers and can’t be easily traced, court records say.
Both men were arrested Thursday and their cases unsealed on Monday. Each face charges in federal court in Florida of conspiracy, selling guns without a license, possessing firearms in furtherance of drug trafficking and transferring firearms to commit a felony.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Tom Parker in Cleveland ordered both to remain in custody until a March 8 hearing in Cleveland. Rodriguez Hilario’s attorney, Daniel Misiewicz, declined comment. A message was left for Saleh’s attorney, Jeffrey Lazarus.
Gun smuggling has been an increasing scourge in the Dominican Republic. A United Nations report released on Thursday said officials at a single port in Haina reported seizing more than 112,000 “units of firearms and ammunition in the first six months of 2022, most of them from the United States.” Last year, Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader announced a plan to buy illegal guns to rid the country of its gun problem.
The ATF, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI collaborated in the 19-month investigation. Court records do not name the Dominican Republic smuggler and only refer to him as “Co-conspirator 1.”
The unnamed co-conspirator also worked with a Rhode Island man who was arrested in January 2022, according to court records. In that case, authorities arrested Robert Alcantara, who sold some 80 ghost guns that were smuggled into the Dominican Republic, according to court records. Messages found on Alcantara’s phone said the smuggler used suppliers in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Alcantara has pleaded not guilty to his charges and the case is pending.
The Dominican Republic man also told federal agents he sold automatic rifles to people in El Salvador, that he was looking into buying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and intimated that he sold kilogram-levels of cocaine in Texas, court records say.
Saleh, 24, and Rodriguez Hilario, 28, admitted to federal agents to their roles in the gun trafficking case, including believing the guns would end up in the hands of violent cartel members.
Saleh supplied the guns to Rodriguez Hilario. For some guns, Saleh ordered kits and constructed the guns, including some with silencers or modifications to make them automatic or semi automatic.
Rodriguez Hilario acted as a middleman, court records say. He knew the high-level Dominican leader, who described Rodriguez Hillario as his “blood brother” during a recorded conversation with undercover agents.
Rodriguez Hillario negotiated prices with the undercover agents and facilitated the deals, court record say.
Saleh and Rodriguez Hilario both told investigators they met on the website Arms List, an online market for buying, selling and trading guns. Rodriguez Hilario sold AR-15′s and M-4s for $3,000, AK-47s for $4,500 each and .40 mm handguns for about $2,500 each.
Federal agents began investigating the group in August 2021. Agents posing as cartel members spoke with the man in the Dominican Republic, who linked them up with Rodriguez Hilario.
Rodriguez Hilario first sold the undercover agents nine assault rifles during a meeting in September 2021, in Cleveland.
Over the next 16 months, Saleh and Rodriguez Hilario met with undercover agents to sell them guns in Florida and at various places around Cleveland, including in the parking lot of Steelyard Commons shopping center.
Rodriguez Hilario at one point offered to help the undercover agent help smuggle people over the Mexican border into the U.S, court records say. He also told agents that he’d acquired fentanyl from China that he planned to make into pill form. Agents tried to set up a deal, but it never happened, court records say.
The final gun deal happened on Thursday at Steelyard Commons, according to court records.
Rodriguez Hilario and Saleh agreed to sell 40 guns to the undercover agents for $1,250 each. Agents conducted surveillance on both men and watched them drive to the parking lot near the Five Guys burger restaurant.
Saleh took four boxes of guns out of his Subaru hatchback and loaded them into the undercover agent’s car. He opened one box to show the agent the guns, then told him to put the cash for the guns in a backpack.
Agents swarmed the duo and arrested them. Saleh during an interview with agents after the arrest said he bought kits to make the guns for about $300.
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