Authorities in Florida and Argentina arrested more than two dozen suspects and seized 5,300 firearms and explosives in a crackdown on an elaborate global weapons trafficking ring, officials said Friday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiated "Operation Patagonia Express" after investigators discovered the shipping of weapons and weapon parts from South Florida to Brazil and Argentina. Once in South America, the components were assembled and sold to criminal groups, authorities said.
The seizure included the equivalent of 52 AR-15 rifles, 30,000 rounds of caliber ammunition for various weapons, 189 long arms, 156 handguns, five vehicles, a hand grenade, a motor round and $110,000 in cash. Twenty-five people were arrested.
"South Florida does seem to be a hub and now we have the largest Argentine firearms seizure in their history so South Florida does seem to be a hub for weapons trafficking into South America," Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge of ICE'S Homeland Security Investigation in Miami, said in a news conference.
Authorities in Argentina said the weapons seizure is the largest in the country's history.
Among those taken into custody were former Broward County residents John James Peterson, 60, and Brunella Zuppone, 67, for allegedly exporting AR-15 components without a required license from the State Department, officials said in a news release.
Both are charged with conspiracy to violate and attempted violations of the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
It was not clear how long the alleged trafficking ring had been operational.