Fast and Furious Done Right?: Big Valley Gun Bust

FRESNO, Calif.

Three people are under arrest - one of them in Mexico -- and investigators are still looking for five people, all of whom have ties to the Madera area.

In both "Fast and Furious" and this operation, hundreds of guns have disappeared, most likely into Mexico. But the guns in this operation never "walked." In other words, investigators in this case never knowingly allowed guns to leave the country after the suspects bought them in Madera.

A single Ruger model 10/22 .22 caliber rifle stands behind the counter at /*Pete's Sport Shop in Madera*/. The firearm doesn't pack the biggest punch, but it's sometimes bought in large quantities.

"Farmers will come in and buy .22s to give to all their ranch hands to shoot squirrels, so it's not totally unheard of, but it's not an everyday occurrence," said Pete's Sport Shop president Rochelle Noblett.

But when someone tried to order a large number of Rugers a few years ago, Noblett reported it before making the sale. "The first thing I did when they came in and asked to special order ten .22s was to call the ATF," she said.

The feds gave their approval, but now -- years later -- they say the weapons illegally left the country. Agents arrested a man and a woman in Madera Tuesday after an indictment came down against them and five other suspects.

Federal prosecutors say the group acted as gun runners to Mexico, illegally delivering more than 400 Rugers south of the border -- all of which came from Pete's Sport Shop.

"There were a large number of purchases at that store in Madera," said Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. "There were, I think, over two dozen purchases by multiple defendants of multiple weapons.

Investigators can't account for more than 300 of the guns, but they say this operation is unlike "Fast and Furious", in which hundreds of the guns were allowed to go to Mexico. In that case, many wound up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, and two were found at the scene where a border patrol agent was murdered.

"This is not a case in which firearms were allowed to walk, or in which straw buyers were surveilled in the possession of firearms that went to Mexico," Wagner said.

Prosecutors say the people at Pete's did everything right, and they don't believe these weapons went to drug cartels because cartels prefer automatic weapons.

Five suspects are still on the loose, and investigators say most of them have been spotted recently in the Madera area.

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