More than two dozen suspects have been arrested and thousands of weapons and explosives were seized as part of a crackdown on a massive South Florida-linked international weapons trafficking operation, authorities said Friday.
"Operation Patagonia Express" was initiated by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Miami after it was discovered that weapons components were being smuggled from South Florida to Brazil and Argentina, where the components were assembled and sold to criminal organizations as fully-functional firearms, authorities said at a news conference Friday in Miami.
Authorities seized more than 5,000 weapons and firearms components, seized more than 167 explosives and made 24 arrests after executing 53 search warrants earlier this month, officials said. Authorities are still counting weapons in Argentina but said it's the largest weapons seizure in the country's history.
"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," said Anthony Salisbury, special agent in charge of HSI Miami.
Among those arrested are two former Broward County residents, John James Peterson, 60, and Brunella Zuppone, 67, who are accused of illegally exporting the weapons without a required license from the U.S. Department of State. They're charged with conspiracy to violate and attempted violations of the Arms Export Control Act and International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
The items seized in South Florida include the equivalent of fifty-two AR-15 assault rifles, officials said. In Argentina, the seizures include 189 long arms, 156 handguns, one mortar round, one hand grenade, over 30,000 rounds of assorted caliber ammunition, five vehicles, and $110,000 in cash, officials said.