NM man convicted of tipping off gun smugglers

September 27, 2013 • State News

ALBUQUEQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Albuquerque jury Friday convicted the husband of a federal prosecutor on charges he tipped a band of border town gun smugglers to a criminal probe of their involvement with the Juarez Cartel.

Retired educator Danny Burnett was found guilty on two out of three counts of leaking information about the probe into gun and drug smuggling by top officials in Columbus, N.M., the Albuquerque Journal ( reports.

Burnett was charged with tipping off then-Police Chief Angelo Vega, whom he had known for decades. Burnett was school superintendent in [auth] Carrizozo and took Vega under his wing when Vega was a student there.

Burnett was allowed to remain free pending sentencing in January.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Spitzer told the jury there was plenty of evidence pointing to Burnett as the source of the information. Prosecutors also said because of Burnett’s leak, federal agents were unable to put together a drug smuggling case against the defendants or capture the Juarez Cartel leader of the group, Ignacio Villalobos.

Burnett testified that he never discussed any wiretaps or federal investigation with Vega during a lunch.

Burnett’s attorney, Jacquelyn Robins, said Vega, one of the prosecutors’ key witnesses, was a corrupt police chief who was on the cartel’s payroll.

“He has everything to gain and nothing to lose by lying,” Robins said.

Vega is among more than a dozen people, including the town’s former mayor and a trustee, who have pleaded guilty in the gun smuggling case. He is awaiting sentencing.

Burnett is the husband of veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney Paula Burnett, who headed the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office when the Columbus investigation was going full steam. She has since transferred to the civil division.

Paula Burnett’s access to information about the wiretaps was disputed throughout the trial.

She did not testify and is not charged with any crime, but according to court records, she denied knowing much about the investigation.

Prosecutor Spitzer said the obvious inference was that Paula Burnett told her husband that Vega was under investigation and about the wiretaps.

Robins told the jury that Paula Burnett was “walled off” from the investigation as soon as Vega’s name came up.

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