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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Polk pastor pleads guilty to buying guns to be smuggled

TAMPA — A Polk County pastor and his wife pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying on government forms when they bought 47 assault-style rifles to be smuggled to Mexico.

Nine of the rifles were later seized by law enforcement in Mexico, some during armed confrontations with drug cartels there, according to court documents.

Luis Antonio Cruz-Diaz and Katie Jean Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make false statements to obtain and smuggle firearms, a charge which carries a maximum of five years in federal prison.

In entering his plea, Cruz-Diaz told U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara he has a doctoral degree and works as a pastor for a church in Winter Haven.

Katie Cruz’s lawyer, Mary Mills, said there’s no evidence her client knew for what purposes the guns would be used.

According to the plea agreement, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began investigating the couple in 2008 when he learned the two U.S. citizens were buying guns and providing them to others.

Agent Walton Lanier contacted the owner of Vets Surplus Guns in Lakeland and found the couple had purchased at least five guns there. The couple also purchased multiple guns from Hartman’s Guns and Ammunition in Winter Haven, according to the court filings. The couple also bought 21 guns on different dates at Guns Galore in Lakeland.

When they bought the guns, they filled out forms stating they were the “actual buyer.” The form included language that if the purchaser was acquiring the guns for other people, the dealer couldn’t sell them the weapons.

When questioned, Cruz-Diaz told the agent he has been buying rifles for someone he knew as “Juan,” who would give him cash and tell him what kinds of guns he wanted. Cruz-Diaz would keep the difference between the cash Juan gave him and the cost of the guns.

Cruz-Diaz also said he sold guns to unknown people in his neighborhood.

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Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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