MIAMI (CBSMiami)- Two former Broward County, who have been accused of playing a large role in an international weapons smuggling scheme, were arrested on Wednesday.
John James Peterson, 60, and Brunella Zuppone, 67, shipped several parts for AR-15 assault rifles to Argentina and Brazil without a license from the U.S. Department of State, said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana Fajardo Orshan.
According to authorities, the rifle components were sent to an Argentine weapons trafficking organization that is listed as a transnational criminal organization, who then smuggled the parts across international borders.
Anthony Salisbury, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, which is a branch of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said the parts were assembled and then sold to the international criminal organizations.
“This ongoing smuggling operation created thousands of firearms that have been linked to violence in the region. This operation highlights the unique ability of HSI to work trans-nationally to deal with global threats and organized crime. We were able to identify and dismantle criminal operations operating out of South Florida,” said Salisbury. “This sends a strong message that there is nowhere in this world that we won’t pursue criminal activity together.”
HSI agents in Miami and law enforcement in Argentina conducted an investigation between October and December 2019, where they were able to get search warrants in Florida and Argentina.
The operation was carried out by HS agents, Argentina’s National Gendarmeria (Police) and Brazilian authorities on Wednesday, leading to the execution of 53 search warrants and the arrest of 25 people in both South American countries and the United States, including Peterson and Zuppone in Miami.
Investigators said 5,300 firearms and parts were confiscated.
Orshan said agents seized enough parts to make up 52 AR-15 assault rifles.
Authorities also seized 156 handguns, 167 explosives, over 30,000 rounds of ammunition, 15 silencers, five vehicles and $110,000 in cash.
Both Peterson and Zuppone appeared before a judge and have been charged with illegally exporting arms and conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations, which regulates the export of military technology.
“The results of Operation Patagonia will increase public safety and strengthen national security among and between each of the participating countries. Anytime you can deny a criminal operation the payday it needs to expand its operation, it’s a good day,” said Deputy Director of ICE Matthew Albence.