Alleged leader of gun smuggling ring also tried to transport children, prosecutor says

Paula Villalva-Patricio
Paula Villalva-Patricio

A woman accused of being the mastermind in a firearm smuggling operation has also tried to illegally transport three people, two of them children, across the border between the United States and Mexico, a federal court document says.

Paula Villalva-Patricio, 57, is on trial in Gulfport on charges alleging she directed the illegal export of firearms from the U.S. to Mexico while she and her husband lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She led the gun-smuggling ring from June 12, 2010, through November 2011, her indictment alleges.

She is accused of trying to smuggle several people into the U.S. since 1990, which led to the gun-smuggling conspiracy with which she is charged, U.S. Attorney Annette Williams wrote in a court document.

The document alleges Patricio was caught trying to smuggle a person at the San Clemente, California, point of entry on March 28, 1990. She was caught trying to smuggle a girl into the U.S. in July 1998, but was allowed to return the child to her mother. And in January 2002, she was caught trying to bring a one-year-old child, who was not her own, across the Laredo, Texas, point of entry. She was convicted in only one of those incidents, on a misdemeanor charge.

A Jackson County deputy stopped Patricio and her husband in August 2011 and found flak jackets and 9 mm pistols hidden in the Ford Ranger her husband was driving, records show. The deputy let the couple leave after a Homeland Security Investigations agent reportedly put a tracking device on the pickup.

Three months later, the deputy stopped the pickup again. The driver was Patricio’s nephew. Federal agents have said they seized nine rifles, five shotguns, eight pistols, 902 rounds of ammunition, 16 magazines, five shotgun barrels, six gun stocks and two scopes.

The jury for Patricio’s trial was selected July 10, the court docket shows. The trial continues this week, with Judge Sul Ozerden presiding.

Patricio’s husband, Jose Luis Santos-Garcia, and her nephew Javier Molina, of Greensboro, North Carolina, were each sentenced on smuggling charges in August 2012 following traffic stops and searches by a Jackson County deputy and a DEA Drug Task Force. Garcia is serving a prison term of eight years and one month. Molina is on probation after serving a five-year term.

All three are from Mexico and are listed as legal permanent U.S. residents.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews