By JACQUES BILLEAUD, ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHOENIX -- A man who bought two rifles found at the scene of the fatal shooting a federal agent north the Arizona-Mexico border will be sentenced Wednesday for his part in a gun smuggling ring targeted in the botched investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.

Jaime Avila Jr., 25, faces up to 10 years in prison for his acknowledged role as a straw buyer for the ring that authorities say bought guns and smuggled them into Mexico for use by the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Two AK-47 variants bought by Avila from a suburban Phoenix gun store were found in the aftermath of a Dec. 14, 2010, shootout that mortally wounded Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near the Arizona border city of Nogales. The firefight was between border agents and five men who had sneaked into the country from Mexico for the purpose of robbing marijuana smugglers.

Robert Heyer, Terry's cousin and leader of a foundation that bears the agent's name, plans to speak on behalf of the Terry family at Avila's sentencing and urged a judge in court records to impose the maximum sentence.

"We believe Mr. Avila initiated a deadly domino effect when he illegally bought those weapons and then delivered them to people who would ultimately put them into the hands of Brian's killers," Heyer said in the statement.

Avila isn't charged in Terry's death. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and dealing guns without a federal license.

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg also is scheduled on Wednesday to sentence five other men who admitted serving as straw buyers for the ring.


Federal authorities conducting the Fast and Furious investigation have faced tough criticism for allowing suspected straw gun buyers for the ring to walk away from gun shops in Arizona with weapons, rather than arrest the suspects and seize the guns there.

The investigation was launched in 2009 to catch trafficking kingpins, but agents lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 weapons. Authorities say the ring was believed to have supplied the Sinaloa cartel with guns. Some guns purchased by the ring were later found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.

Mexico's drug cartels often seek out guns in the United States because gun laws in Mexico are more restrictive than in the United States.

So far, 15 of the 20 people charged in the gun case pleaded guilty to charges. Most of those who admitted guilt are straw buyers who said they falsely claimed that guns they bought were for them, when they were actually purchased for the ring. One of the ring's organizers also has pleaded guilty.

Records show a Jan. 3 trial has been set for five other alleged ring members, including a man accused of being a ring leader, two alleged recruiters and a straw buyer who is accused of illegally buying 245 guns.

Authorities brought a separate case in federal court in Tucson against five men charged with murder in Terry's death.

So far, one man has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. The plea allowed Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, of El Fuerte in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, to avoid the death penalty through his plea. He could face life in prison when he's sentenced on March 1.

Authorities haven't said which member of the rip-off crew was believed to have fired the fatal shot at Terry and have declined to say whether the weapon used to kill the agent was linked to an Operation Fast and Furious purchase.

Osorio-Arellanes told investigators he raised his weapon toward the agents but didn't open fire.

Of the five men accused in Terry's killing, two are in custody. Three others remain fugitives.

The FBI says it's actively pursuing the fugitives and has offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the capture of each of the three men.

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  • From left, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md., Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., Rep, Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and many House Democrats walk out of the Capitol during the vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt, Thursday, June 28, 2012, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., left, and the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., go to the House Rules Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 27, 2012, to argue procedures as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on whether Attorney General Eric Holder is in contempt of Congress because he has refused to give the Oversight Committee all the documents it wants related to Operation Fast and Furious, the flawed gun-smuggling probe involving Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., left, stretches out her hand to get the attention of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as the panel considers a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member, sits between them. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) (C) talks with raking member U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (L) during a mark up hearing on Capitol Hill June 20, 2012 in Washington, DC. Issa and the committee Republicans called the hearing to vote on holding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents the GOP says are key to their investigation into the failed Fast and Furious operation. Before the start of the hearing, the White House asserted the documents are protected by executive privilidge. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., center, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, confers with an aide as the panel considers a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member, second from left, speaks with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who authored an amendment in support of Holder. In a showdown with President Barack Obama's administration, House Republicans had pressed for more Justice Department documents on the flawed gun-smuggling probe known as Operation Fast and Furious that resulted in hundreds of guns illicitly purchased in Arizona gun shops winding up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, center, debates Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee considers a vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., right, considers whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member, speaks at left. In a showdown with President Barack Obama's administration, House Republicans are pressing for more Justice Department documents on the flawed gun-smuggling probe known as Operation Fast and Furious that resulted in hundreds of guns illicitly purchased in Arizona gun shops winding up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: House Oversight and Government Reform raking member U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) (R) hears from U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) during a mark up hearing with June 20, 2012 in Washington, DC. Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and the committee Republicans called the hearing to vote on holding U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents the GOP says are key to their investigation into the failed Fast and Furious operation. Before the start of the hearing, the White House asserted the documents are protected by executive privilidge. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Attorney General Eric holder speaks to reporters following his meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Rep. Issa met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., speaks to reporters following his meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Issa met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to reporters following his meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. Holder wants a House panel to drop plans to try to hold him in contempt of Congress, and the panel's chairman wants more Justice Department documents regarding Operation Fast and Furious, a flawed gun-smuggling probe in Arizona. Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, met in an effort to resolve their dispute over the investigation of Fast and Furious by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Issa chairs. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Attorney General Eric Holder walks through Statuary Hall to speak to reporters following his meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • FILE -In this Dec. 8, 2011 file photo, House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., left, shakes hands with Attorney General Eric Holder on Capitol Hill in Washington. Holder is proposing to meet with Issa by Monday to settle a dispute over Justice Department documents the congressman is demanding on a flawed gun-smuggling probe. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)