Alaska guns sold in private sales discovered in shipments to Mexican drug cartel

Guns and ammunition seized in Mexico, at left, and the tractor-trailer unit where they were hidden, seen in photos included in federal smuggling charges filed in Alaska federal court Dec. 11, 2020. (District of Alaska U.S. District Court)

Two guns purchased in private sales from Alaskans were discovered in a larger shipment of firearms on its way to a Mexican drug cartel last spring, according to charges filed recently in federal court.

Smuggling charges against the now-jailed Miguel Moreno-Cortez allege he was an Alaska-based gun purchaser who was part of a larger network exporting guns from the United States to a drug-trafficking organization called Autodefensas de Michoacán Cartel in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

According to the charging document, Moreno-Cortez bought a rifle and a shotgun in separate transactions in Alaska. Neither appears to have been bought directly from a licensed gun dealer. The charges do not mention how Moreno-Cortez met the seller of the rifle, but they say he found the shotgun for sale on Alaska List, an online classifieds site.

Unlike licensed dealers, federal law does not require a private gun seller to conduct background checks on gun purchasers.

According to the charging document, the investigation leading to Moreno-Cortez’s arrest started when police in Mexico conducted a random search of a tractor-trailer in April. The charges said a scanner found an “anomaly.” Then, inside two refrigeration units, police discovered 24 guns, ammunition, magazines and body armor.

The charges say another search in June at a warehouse in a different Mexican city uncovered 54 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition that were also linked to the Michoacán cartel.

According to the charges, federal investigators connected Moreno-Cortez to specific guns in the shipments through an analysis of his Apple iCloud account, which had photos of the firearms, according to the charges. The cloud-based storage service also allegedly showed audio chat messages in which Moreno-Cortez and man coordinating the gun shipments discussed prices for guns, as well as violent encounters between rival drug cartels.

Court records show Moreno-Cortez was arrested in Florida on Dec. 10. He did not have an attorney listed as of Dec. 14.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Alaska did not immediately respond to a request for comment.