Tracking device on woman’s truck revealed she led a gun smuggling ring

Paula Villalva-Patricio
Paula Villalva-Patricio

A woman who led a gun-smuggling ring busted in Jackson County has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for exporting firearms from the U.S. to Mexico.

A federal judge in Gulfport also fined Paula Villalva-Patricio, 57, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, $20,000 at her sentencing Thursday on convictions in a four-count indictment.

A jury in July believed Patricio directed the smuggling of firearms in 2010 and 2011. She crossed the Mexican border 23 times during that period, often returning to the U.S. in a matter of minutes or the same day, a border patrol report shows.

Patricio is from Mexico and is a permanent U.S. resident, as are her husband and nephew, who have been sentenced on related charges.

A federal grand jury indicted Patricio about five years after Jackson County deputies stopped the same pickup twice within two months. The second stop uncovered a cache of weapons and ammunition.

Patricio and her husband, Jose Luis Santos-Garcia, 50, were in a Ford Ranger pulling a trailer with two four-wheelers when a deputy stopped them Aug. 31, 2011, a Homeland Security Investigations agent said in a sworn statement.

A search revealed two flak jackets and two pistols hidden underneath the truck. A flak jacket is military-style body armor.

They were released after an HSI agent put a tracking device on their pickup, records show.

A different Jackson County deputy stopped the Ford Ranger on Nov. 1, 2011. The driver was Patricio’s nephew, Javier Molina, 25, of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Concealed in compartments under the truck were nine rifles, five shotguns, eight pistols, 902 rounds of ammo, 16 magazines, five shotgun barrels, six gun stocks and two scopes, the HSI agent said.

Patrico was first indicted Sept. 18, 2016. She was extradited to Gulfport from California. A grand jury indicted her on additional charges on May 2.

A jury convicted her July 19 on two counts of gun smuggling and one count each of conspiracy to commit offenses against the U.S. and transporting firearms to a person she knew did not reside in the U.S.

Patricio had been convicted of trying to smuggle two children into the U.S. in 2010 and 2011 and was caught trying to smuggle a third person but wasn’t prosecuted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams wrote in a court filing.

Garcia and Molina were indicted separately and sentenced for gun smuggling in August 2012. They received prison terms of eight years and one month and five years, respectively.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews