Crime

Alleged mastermind of gun smuggling ring faces charges in Gulfport

Paula Villalva-Patricio
Paula Villalva-Patricio

A woman accused of directing a gun-smuggling operation that exported weapons to Mexico faces federal charges in Gulfport.

Paula Villalva-Patricio, 56, had been questioned in 2011 when a Jackson County deputy found flak jackets, which are bullet-resistant, and 9mm pistols hidden in a car her husband was driving, an affidavit says. She reportedly said she had no knowledge of the hidden items.

Patricio and her husband, Jose Luis Santos-Garcia, both from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, were released, but not before a Homeland Security Investigations agent from Gulfport put a tracking device on their Ford Ranger pickup, records show.

Three months later, a different Jackson County deputy stopped the Ranger and found nine rifles, five shotguns, eight pistols, 902 rounds of ammunition, 16 magazines, five shotgun barrels, six gun stocks and two scopes. The vehicle was driven by Patricio’s nephew, Javier Molina of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Patricio, Garcia and Molina are from Mexico and were listed as legal permanent U.S. residents.

‘Add to bloodshed in Mexico’

Molina later told federal agents Patricio directed the illegal operation, gave instructions on deliveries and handled the money, an affidavit said. Molina reportedly said he and Garcia and the couple’s two sons helped her package guns, which were then hidden under various vehicles.

Garcia, 48, and Molina, 23, were sentenced in Gulfport in August 2012. Garcia is serving a prison term of eight years and one month for gun smuggling. Molina received a five-year sentence for gun smuggling.

The men “were seeking to add to the bloodshed in Mexico by unlawfully smuggling weapons there for their personal enrichment,” HSI special agent Raymond R. Parmer Jr. said after they were ordered to prison.

A federal grand jury indicted Patricio a month later. The indictment, unsealed in Gulfport this week, alleges she directed gun-smuggling operations from June 2010 through November 2011.

Patricio was brought to Gulfport from California on Saturday. She is held with no bond.

She pleaded not guilty Tuesday on charges of conspiracy and gun smuggling.

Her trial is set on a court calendar that begins March 6.

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