Two Las Cruces men face federal firearms charges

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Ruben Martha, 40, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, appeared in federal court today facing a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition. Pablo Vargas, 50, of Las Cruces made an initial appearance on April 28 facing the same charge. Vargas and Martha will remain in custody pending arraignment and detention hearings.

A federal grand jury indicted Vargas and Martha on April 20. According to the indictment and other court records, on April 17, 2021, Vargas was hosting a party at a home on Nevada Street in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Martha, who lives down the street, was returning to his home along with his girlfriend and his adult daughter, who were in separate cars and slowed down as they navigated their way through the busy street. An angry exchange allegedly occurred during which an object was thrown at Martha’s car and a bottle was thrown through the open window of the car Martha’s daughter was driving. The daughter allegedly was struck by the bottle.

After Martha reached his home, he received a call from a friend, whom Martha told what was happening. The friend arrived on the scene and gunfire allegedly erupted. The friend was struck and fled the scene. Martha allegedly retrieved a shotgun from a trashcan on his property as Vargas and others allegedly fired toward Martha’s residence. Martha allegedly chambered a round of ammunition in the shotgun, but was struck in the chest. Officers estimate that twenty to thirty rounds were fired during the confrontation.

In 1997, Vargas was convicted of shooting at or from a motor vehicle. Martha was convicted in 2000 of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and criminal damage to property, and in 2007 of shooting at a dwelling, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and felon in possession. As previously convicted felons, neither Vargas nor Martha can legally possess firearms or ammunition.

An indictment is only an allegation. A defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty. If convicted, Vargas and Martha face up to 10 years in prison.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated this case with assistance from the Las Cruces Police Department. Assistant United States Attorneys Maria Armijo and Christopher McNair are prosecuting the case.

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