New Mexico town in gun-running scandal shuts police dept

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 12, 2011 6:13 PM
New Mexico town in gun-running scandal shuts police dept

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (Reuters) - A tiny New Mexico border town where three top officials were charged with running guns to warring Mexican drug cartels has dissolved its police department, authorities said on Tuesday.

Village trustees in Columbus, N.M., citing a lack of funding, voted at a council meeting on Thursday to get rid of the town's three-person police department and other city services.

The village began its recent fiscal year with no budget after former Police Chief Angelo Vega, mayor Eddie Espinoza, trustee Blas Gutierrez and 10 others were charged in March in an 84-count gun-running indictment.

The indictment alleged that the defendants used their positions to facilitate and safeguard the trafficking of around 200 guns, including assault rifles, to Mexico, where about 40 people a day were killed in raging cartel violence last year.

Luna County Sheriff's Department officers will now assign a deputy to police the town during weekday business hours, while others will be moved to patrols closer to Columbus, Sheriff Raymond Cobos said.

"I think we averaged one to three calls per month (from the village), so it's not like downtown L.A. or anything," Cobos told Reuters, adding that the arrangement would still strain resources.

Cobos has also asked the village to give his office its police vehicles, weapons, radios and other equipment to mitigate the cost.

The gun-running scandal brought fresh notoriety to Columbus, best known for a raid by bandit-turned-revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa in 1916 which left 18 Americans dead and the dusty frontier town a smoking ruin.

(Reporting by Ashley Meeks; editing by Tim Gaynor and Cynthia Johnston)