A Brazilian Federal Police (PF) operation, with the support of the Office of the Attorney General and the Homeland Security Investigations Agency of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, dismantled a gang accused of operating an international ghost gun trafficking scheme. Authorities arrested three people in Brazil and three others were served arrest warrants in the United States on March 15th.
The criminal operation included the purchase in the United States of ammunition and raw material for the manufacture of guns. This material was sent to Brazil, where the weapons were “printed” using a 3D printer. The Florida-based gang members would legally buy the parts and hide them among other goods such as electronics, medicines, and clothes, in order to evade inspection in Brazil, the PF said.
The merchandise would reach Brazil via ship or plane through the states of Amazonas, São Paulo, and Santa Catarina, but was bound for the city of Rio de Janeiro. The guns were manufactured in a house of the popular community of Vila Isabel. Buyers were mostly narcotraffickers, militia members, and hitmen, the PF said.
During the investigations, which started two years ago and culminated in Operation Heat, agents seized thousands of weapons, parts, accessories, and ammunition of various calibers, both in Brazil and in the United States, the PF added.
According to the institution, criminals invested the proceeds in residential real estate, cryptocurrencies, stocks, and luxury vehicles and boats. As such, in addition to arrest warrants, Operation Heat served warrants for the sequestration of assets valued at more than $2 million.
A former military police officer, Ronnie Lessa, a defendant for the 2018 death of a Brazilian councilwoman, is among the three men authorities arrested in Brazil. According to Brazilian news site G1, Lessa was among the main clients of the gang targeted by Operation Heat. Lessa’s wife, also a former police officer, was arrested in July 2021 for arms trafficking after parts for manufacturing AR-15 rifles were found in her Rio de Janeiro home, said investigative journalism organization InSight Crime.
In the United States, the three people who were served arrest warrants — Brazilians with U.S. citizenship — are awaiting a decision on whether they will be extradited or tried on U.S. soil, Brazilian newspaper Estadão reported. In February, U.S. President Joe Biden announced a crackdown on ghost guns with the launch of a national enforcement initiative.