An ex-Gardena Police Department officer was sentenced Monday to nearly three years behind bars for scheming to purchase “off-roster” firearms not available to the public and then illegally reselling the weapons for profit, but the judge vacated the conviction of his co-defendant.
Carlos Fernandez, 44, of Norwalk was sentenced by U.S. District Judge S. James Otero to 33 months in federal prison followed by a year on supervised release. He will surrender May 4 to begin his sentence.
Otero vacated guilty verdicts against fellow former Gardena officer Edward Arao, 49, of Eastvale after finding that the defendants should have faced separate trials. Evidence against Fernandez, judge said, tainted the jury’s feelings towards Arao and hurt his defense.
After granting Arao’s motion for a new trial, a March 18 hearing was set to schedule a possible retrial date.
“In 14 years on the federal bench, I don’t think I’ve ever granted a new trial,” Otero said, adding that if he had gone through with sentencing Arao, the penalty would have been probation.
The judge told Fernandez that his time in federal prison would be “significantly harsh” due to his law enforcement background.
The ex-officers were found guilty in November of conspiracy to sell almost 90 weapons — mostly Colt .38-caliber pistols — without a license. The verdicts in Los Angeles federal court came on the sixth day of their trial.
The jury determined that both police veterans marketed firearms at gun shows, although neither defendant was licensed to engage in the business of firearms dealing at the time of the offenses outlined in the indictment. At least one of the weapons ended up in the hands of a man with a prior criminal conviction that prohibits him from possessing firearms, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Of the firearms Arao sold, four were recovered at crime scenes involving drug trafficking, federal prosecutors alleged at trial.
“Their job was to uphold the law and keep communities safe,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Veronica Dragalin told the jury, and instead they “used their status to break the law.”
The jury in downtown Los Angeles heard that 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, prosecutors alleged.
“Off-roster” handguns are not available to the general public, but can be legally purchased by law enforcement officers.
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, evidence showed.
Fernandez and Arao are no longer with the department, a police spokesperson said.