Five soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord are reportedly under investigation for smuggling an anti-tank weapon off the base last fall, and a bust earlier this year by the ATF targeted a group of alleged meth dealers who also peddled assault rifles and grenade launchers. Welcome to the arms bazaar that is Tacoma, Washington.
An investigation into the origins of the bazooka (pictured left) is still ongoing, but JBLM officials claim it doesn't belong to the base. They took an inventory of the base's weapons cache and found announced they found "no discrepancies."
Image Source The M72 LAW, or Light Anti-armor Weapon.
Around the same time the Sheriff got wind of the rocket launcher, the ATF began a separate undercover investigation into a group of arms dealers operating in Tacoma. An informant purchased several guns from a California man named Carlos, so he took things to a the next level: he asked about acquiring meth and hand grenades. According to court documents unsealed in late February, Carlos told the snitch he happened to know some guys in Tacoma who could arrange just such a deal.
They arranged a meeting between the informant, an undercover ATF agent, a man named Raul, and another man, later identified as Javier Hernandez-Godinez. Standing in the parking lot of Tacoma's La Quinta Inn, Raul told the cops he sold meth by the pound, and also offered them a list of weapons for sale, including two fully-auto machine guns, an AK-47, and an SKS assault rifle. The group reconvened a few days later, and the undercover agent bought 30 grams of meth and a gold .50 caliber Desert Eagle pistol for $2,200.
Discussing future deals, Raul said he could get machine guns, but first he'd have to talk with his supplier, who he referred to as "The White Lady," according to court documents. At a pair of subsequent rendezvouses, the agent and informant bought another 118 grams of meth and five pistols for a combined $5,300.
The first machine gun deal took place in Hernandez-Godinez's garage in east Tacoma. Javier and his brother Jorge were offering a .308 caliber rifle and a .762 caliber SKS assault rifle, but there was a hitch: neither gun was actually fully-automatic. The ATF agent tried to explain, but the brothers weren't convinced. Javier finally figured it out when the undercover agent asked him to pull out his personal weapon -- a Glock .45 tucked in his back waistband -- and compare the sounds made by the rifles and pistols when they were cocked and dry fired. The deal still went down, and the agent actually managed to negotiate a discount on his next meth purchase because of the mix-up.
Still set on meeting the mysterious "White Lady," the agent and informant met with another arms dealer named Enrique "Ricky" Palomera. Ricky was offering up a .556 caliber "Commando" rifle, but was having second thoughts about the deal.
"Palomera said he might need the rifle because a guy owed him some money," court documents say. "Palomera, laughing, then racked the empty firearm, pointed it in the UC's [undercover agent] direction, but not at the UC, and pulled the trigger."
There was no round in the chamber, so the agent was fine, though presumably terrified. Later in the conversation, Palomera told a story about a man who had ripped him off for a pound of meth. The thief's corpse ended up wrapped in plastic in a house, destined to be dumped in a river, the court documents say.
Palomera eventually arranged a meeting with The White Lady, who was selling "an attachment that goes onto the end of a military assault rifle and shoots an explosive." The White Lady -- accompanied by a second woman named Amber Yehle -- could supposedly get regular grenades too. She eventually showed up with ten guns, including an assault rifle, shotguns, and pistols. Asked about the grenades and rockets, the still unnamed white lady said she got them "from a guy who is in the military."
The Hernandez-Godinez brothers were eventually arrested, and are currently charged with conspiracy to distribute meth, and being aliens in possession of firearms. They are in federal custody awaiting trial.
The White Lady turned out to be Alicia Lee Robertson, aka Alicia Gonzalez. Her record includes three previous felony convictions for possession of meth with intent to distribute, and she's now been indicted charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and an armed career criminal.* The latter charge carries a minimum 15-year prison sentence.
Palomera and Raul -- whoever he is -- have been indicted, but they have managed to elude capture thus far. Raul is not identified by his given name in the court documents, and a spokeswoman for the Western Washington U.S. Attorney says both he and Palomera are still being sought by federal law enforcement.
*This post was updated Friday at 1:37 p.m. to include additional information about the arrest of, and charges against "The White Lady," Alicia Lee Robertson. The original version mistakenly reported that she had not yet been arrested or charged. Her charging documents are viewable below.