(With permission from the Center for Public Integrity.)
Camron Scott Galloway, 21, walked into X Caliber Guns in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 30, 2008, and filled out forms for the purchase of six AK-47 rifles.
Reliable and powerful, and a bargain at about $500 each, the Romanian-made gun, a semiautomatic version of the iconic Kalashnikov assault weapon, had become popular with the drug cartels in Mexico.
Galloway, who eventually pleaded guilty to gun charges and became a cooperating prosecution witness in a broader case, testified that he agreed to act as the purchaser of the Romanian AKs on behalf of a co-worker's brother, who was trafficking weapons south of the border. Just for doing the paperwork, he earned $100 per rifle.
Four months later, one of the same guns that Galloway signed for surfaced in a safe house used by the Beltran Leyva drug cartel in northwest Mexico. The discovery followed a deadly shootout between federal agents and drug dealers in Culiacán, the capital of the Pacific state of Sinaloa. Eight police officers were killed.
In the grim accounting of death and violence from Mexico's drug wars, the episode might be written off as a footnote. After all, almost 35,000 people have been killed in violence in the four years since President Felipe Calderón began deploying troops and federal police throughout Mexico to ratchet up the fight against the cartels.