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Four arrested in Mexican cartel weapon smuggling operation out of Pahrump, Whittier |

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Four arrested in Mexican cartel weapon smuggling operation out of Pahrump, Whittier

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) -- Four defendants have been arrested following a federal grand jury indictment alleging a scheme to smuggle weapons and ammunition to one of the world's most violent and dangerous transnational criminal organizations.

The arrests, made on Jan. 19, are a result of Operation Semper Indifelis, targeting a domestic weapons trafficking organization that provided firearms and ammunition to the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), one of Mexico's largest and most violent drug cartels.

During the Semper Infidelis investigation, authorities seized six assault rifles, over 250,000 rounds of assault rifle ammunition, and over $300,000 worth of weapons parts and kits to assemble several “mini-guns," which are six-barrel rotary machine guns capable of firing up to 6,000 rounds per minute.

6 defendants have been charged with conspiring to violate federal export laws by illegally bringing the weapons and ammunition to CJNG operatives in Mexico. The indictment also charges five of the defendants with various attempted smuggling counts.

The leader of the organization, Marco Antonio Santillan Valencia of Whittier, and his son, Marco Santillan Jr. of Pahrump, have been charged in a money laundering conspiracy. The indictment alleges that Santillan led the organization to purchase assault riffles, hundreds of thousands of rounds of assault rifle ammunition, and numerous machine gun parts and accessories using narcotics proceeds.

The indictment states that Santillan Jr. sent a video of himself via Facebook holding a fanned stack of $100 bills and saying the “sale of firearms to the CJNG was profitable.”

According to the indictment, members of the organization allegedly obtained firearms in Oregon and Nevada, consolidated shipments in or near Pahrump and Whittier, and smuggled the items into Mexico. The organization also allegedly had ammunition from various states delivered to a stash location in Nevada.

The indictment also states that this conspiracy began no later than March 2020 and operated for about one year, and obtained thousands of rounds of .50-caliber armor piercing incendiary rounds in Arizona, consolidating them in Nevada before attempts to smuggle them into Mexico.

All 6 defendants in the indictment are:

  • Marco Antonio Santillan Valencia, 51, of Whittier
  • Anthony Marmolejo Aguilar, 30, of Whittier
  • Marco Santillan Jr., 29, of Pahrump, Nevada
  • Michael Diaz, 33, of Moreno Valley
  • Luis De Arcos, 51, of Midway City
  • Rafael Magallon Castillo, 34, of Oceano

Santillan, De Arcos and Diaz entered not guilty pleas and were ordered to stand trial in March. Santillan Jr. was ordered to appear for an arraignment in Los Angeles on Feb. 2.

Since the arrests made on Jan. 19, authorities are now asking for the public’s assistance in locating Magallon. Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to contact the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office at (310) 477-6565. He is currently believed to be in Mexico.