updated 4/17/2009 3:53:12 PM ET 2009-04-17T19:53:12

A Houston man was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for buying military-style firearms that ended up in the hands of Mexico's violent drug cartels.

Prosecutors said John Phillip Hernandez was a leader of an organization that purchased 339 weapons over 15 months, many of them military-style weapons. At least 40 weapons have been recovered in Mexico and three have been found in Guatemala, according to court documents.

Hernandez, 26, was sentenced after pleading guilty last July to one count of making a false statement to a gun dealer.

Buying weapons is legal in Texas, but the purchaser must fill out a government form that indicates whether he plans to keep the gun for himself or give it to a third party. Hernandez claimed the guns were for himself.

His attorney, Samy Khalil, had asked for a prison term of four to five years, as recommended under the federal sentencing guidelines. Khalil said Hernandez did not know the guns would end up in the hands of the cartels.

One gun used in Acapulco shootout
But U.S. District Judge David Hittner said Hernandez, 26, deserved a stiffer sentence because his actions "strengthened the drug cartels by arming them with arsenals that let them continue their criminal conduct."

Authorities say one of the guns Hernandez bought was recovered from a bloody February 2007 shootout in the resort city of Acapulco, where more than a dozen assailants staged simultaneous attacks against two police stations, killing five police officers and two secretaries.

"The only market for these types of guns in Mexico are drug killers," prosecutor Mark White said. "He just has to know he's arming a bunch of drug hitmen."

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began investigating Hernandez in 2007 after a routine inspection of gun dealer records identified several people who had bought many military-style firearms.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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