Charges involve a Border Patrol operation targeting Mexican drug cartels that went fatally wrong.
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Monday announced the indictment of five people in the killing of a Border Patrol agent linked to the disputed gun-trafficking investigation called Operation Fast and Furious. Four of the defendants are fugitives, and the FBI offered a $1 million reward for any information that leads to their capture.
The indictment, which was handed up by a federal grand jury in November, centers on a gunfight involving Border Patrol agents and bandits in Arizona near the border with Mexico on Dec. 14, 2010. One of the agents, Brian Terry, was fatally wounded, and it later emerged that two guns found at the scene had been bought by a suspected straw buyer for a smuggling network in the Fast and Furious investigation.
"Agent Terry served his country honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect it from harm, and we will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for his murder to justice," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
The existence of a sealed indictment and the identity of the defendant who is in custody, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, had already been made public. But the announcement on Monday disclosed the reward and the names of four fugitives -- Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza -- charged with crimes including first-degree murder, assault on a federal officer and conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery.
Gunfight on border
The indictment contends the men had illegally entered the United States from Mexico with a plan to "arm themselves with firearms" and use the weapons to rob drug traffickers of marijuana. Instead, the men got into a gunfight with four Border Patrol agents, including Terry.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes was arrested on the night of the shooting. The indictment says he had previously been convicted of felony assault in Maricopa County, Ariz., in 2006, and it charges him with "possession of a firearm by a prohibited person" -- a Romanian-made assault rifle and 25 rounds of ammunition.
The indictment also lists the serial numbers of two such weapons, apparently those that had been bought by a suspect in the Operation Fast and Furious investigation.
Federal officials said the indictment was being unsealed so public assistance could be sought in finding the other four defendants.
Operation Fast and Furious was an investigation from late 2009 to early 2011 into a suspected gun-smuggling network linked to a Mexican drug cartel. Agents, seeking to build a bigger case, sometimes did not move swiftly to arrest suspected low-level straw purchasers for the network or to find a way to seize their weapons.
The agents eventually lost track of about 2,000 weapons bought by the suspects, many of which have not been recovered and are presumed to have reached criminal gangs in Mexico. The two firearms found near the site of the shootout had been bought by one such suspect in January 2010.