MIAMI – Two people have been charged in Florida with orchestrating a massive arms smuggling scheme involving thousands of weapons and parts sent to South America, federal officials said Friday.
Homeland Security Investigations officials said at a news conference that authorities seized 5,300 firearms and components, many of them AR-15 rifles. More than two dozen people have been arrested in Argentina, Brazil and the U.S.
Matthew Albence, deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the weapons were mailed in pieces using false labeling from the U.S. to South America and assembled there. The weapons parts were shipped through the U.S. Post Office and other delivery services.
“There’s no shortage of creativity in the criminal element,” Albence said. “It’s not just stopping the contraband, it’s dismantling the organizations.”
In Miami, a criminal complaint charges John James Peterson, 60, and Brunella Zuppone, 67, with playing key roles in the smuggling scheme. In addition to the rifles and parts, authorities seized 156 handguns, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, 167 explosives and 15 silencers.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Peterson and Zuppone had lawyers to represent them.
In addition to the weapons and ammunition, authorities seized more than $100,000 in cash. Anthony Salisbury, chief of Homeland Security Investigations in Miami, said most of the weapons were intended for Brazil after transiting through Argentina.
“It’s not on our doorstep but it’s just as dangerous,” Salisbury said. “South Florida does seem to be a hub of weapons trafficking to South America.”
At a news conference, officials displayed dozens of weapons parts, ammunition clips and one fully assembled AR-15 that included a setting for fully automatic fire. That is illegal for civilian use in the U.S.
“At the end of the day, it’s all for money,” Albence said. “There’s always groups that exploit vulnerabilities in the system for profit.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.