SWEETWATER, Fla. – Officials at the Department of Homeland Security, along with their partners, arrested more than two dozen people Wednesday and Thursday on weapons charges.
Officials said many of the suspects were shipping components of AR-15s to South America without a license, reassembling them and selling them on the black market at extremely high prices.
Homeland Security Investigations and its partners seized more than 5,000 AR-15s components smuggled through the mail from Florida to Argentina and Brazil.
Officials said criminals deliberately mislabeled them as car or bicycle parts, in some cases. In others, they scratched off the serial numbers to make them harder to track.
"This organization smuggled enough parts to create thousands of fully functional firearms that had been directly linked to violence in the region," said Anthony Salisbury, of Homeland Security Investigations.
Officials said AR-15s are harder to come by in Argentina and Brazil, where regulations are tight.
So drug dealers, robbers, human traffickers and others buy the guns on the black market at 10 to 20 times the value sold legally in the U.S.
"We have to work together, just by sharing information, by working as a team, in order to succeed and dismantle those kinds of organizations," said Commandant Martin Myslicki, of the Argentine National Gendarmerie.
Officials between the three countries arrested a total of 25 people within the last two days, including two from Bradenton.
Officials said most of them were the shippers.
"More than anything, our success here in Miami and in South America reflect the hard work and dedication of the men and women who are committed to something larger than themselves and are united by a fierce desire to protect the innocent and provide safe and prosperous communities around the world," said Matthew Albence, of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Officials aren't saying how they found out the weapons were being shipped illegally, but we know that the U.S. Postal Service inspects the mail and X-rays it.
Law enforcement departments also use gun-sniffing K-9s.
After all the cases have been prosecuted, the weapons will be destroyed.