SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A Utah woman is heading to federal prison for buying dozens of high-powered rifles for Mexican drug cartel members.
It all started in 2017, when Norma Llamas Rodriguez, 47, began buying more and more guns with increased caliber, but she escaped detection because she did not have a criminal record.
Some of the assault rifles were seized at the U.S. border heading into Mexico, with a least one, a semi-automatic that was converted into a machine gun, discovered last April following a gun battle in Jalisco, Mexico, between cartel members and police.
Other guns purchased by Rodriguez include assault rifles, handguns, and several squad automatic (SAW) firearms.
These purchases continued to be made under the radar of law enforcement until an online gun dealer became suspicious when she tried to buy a third SAW rifle and notified federal ATF agents.
That started a complex, multi-state and international investigation which led to Rodriguez being arrested, indicted, and eventually pleading guilty this month.
“She purchased approximately 49 guns here in the state of Utah which we believe were then quickly smuggled south to Mexico. Of those 49, seven of the 49 are a model M249 semi-auto rifle,” said Michael Minichino, the resident ATF agent in Salt Lake City.
Those particular rifles cost between $7,500 and $8,000.
When authorities discovered she’d spent $24,000 in just a few weeks on three rifles, yet was living in a modest mobile home, they became suspicious.
ATF agents served warrants at two mobile homes in 2019 and found three firearms, documentation showing wire transfers to and from Mexico, multiple firearm operator manuals, and $7,400 in cash.
In July, Rodriguez will begin serving a 52-month federal prison sentence.
Her son has also pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
This story was originally published by Scott McKane at KSTU.