Two veteran Gardena Police Department officers participated in a scheme in which they purchased “off-roster” firearms not available to the general public and illegally resold the weapons for profit, a prosecutor told a downtown Los Angeles jury Tuesday, but a defense lawyer countered that at least one of the men didn’t realize he was doing anything illegal.
Carlos Miguel Fernandez, 43, of Norwalk, and Edward Yasushiro Arao, 48, of Eastvale face federal charges alleging they conspired to sell about 100 weapons — mostly Colt .38-caliber pistols — without a license.
“Their job was to uphold the law and keep communities safe,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Dragalin told the jury, alleging that instead, the two officers “used their status to break the law.”
Prosecutors allege Fernandez advertised guns offered by himself, Arao and others on his Instagram account. Arao, who was the CEO of Ronin Tactical Group, a federal firearms licensee, similarly advertised guns on his company’s account, the indictment alleges.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also contends that both 17-year veterans of the Gardena police force marketed firearms at gun shows although neither defendant was licensed to engage in the business of firearms dealing at the time of the offenses alleged in the indictment.
“Off-roster” handguns are not available to the general public, but can be legally purchased by law enforcement officers.
In his opening statement, Arao’s attorney Ed Robinson alleged that evidence would prove his client innocent.
“He did not know or believe he was violating federal law,” Robinson said.
Attorneys for Fernandez reserved their opening statement for later in the trial.
Through messages on Instagram and other means, Fernandez and Arao negotiated the prices and terms of the sales, and accepted payment for the guns once they were delivered, according to prosecutors.
The indictment also alleges that Oscar Morales Camacho Sr., 64, of Salinas, falsely certified that he was purchasing a firearm for himself in a 2017 private-party transfer, when he in fact was buying the gun for his son, Oscar Maravilla Camacho Jr., 35, also of Salinas.
Camacho Jr. has a prior criminal conviction that prohibits him from possessing firearms. The indictment alleges that Fernandez and both Camachos “well knew (that) defendant Camacho Sr. was not the actual buyer of the firearm.”
The indictment also alleges a second “straw purchaser” transaction in which a South Los Angeles woman purchased two firearms for her boyfriend. As in the other straw purchase alleged in the indictment, Bianca Elizabeth Ibarria, 24, and Adalberto deJesus Vasquez Pelayo Jr., 25, also of South Los Angeles, are charged with making a false statement in a federal firearm licensee’s records during purchase of a firearm.
Each count in the indictment carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison. If convicted of all charges, Fernandez would face up to 15 years and Arao could be sentenced to as much as 10 years behind bars, prosecutors said.
When the officers were charged last year, the then-Gardena police chief said the two men were immediately placed on administrative leave, and the department cooperated fully during the investigation.
A call to the city’s interim police chief to check on the current status of Fernandez and Arao was not immediately returned.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: