Two Gardena Police Officers Convicted of Operating Unlicensed Firearms Business, Selling Weapons to Convicted Felons
LOS ANGELES – Two Gardena Police officers were found guilty by a jury today of federal criminal charges for scheming to purchase “off-roster” firearms not available to the general public and then illegally reselling the firearms for profit.
Carlos Miguel Fernandez, 44, of Norwalk, and Edward Yasushiro Arao, 49, of Eastvale, were found guilty of conspiracy to engage in the business of dealing firearms without a license and of substantive counts of engaging in an unlicensed firearms business. Fernandez also was convicted of an additional conspiracy count, selling firearms to a convicted felon, and of making false statements about the sales on federal firearms licensing paperwork.
According to evidence presented at their six-day trial, Fernandez, whose Instagram handle was “the38superman,” advertised firearms for sale – guns being offered by both himself, Arao and others – on his Instagram account. The vast majority of posts on the account contained images of firearms. Arao, who was the CEO of Ronin Tactical Group, which was a federal firearms licensee (FFL), similarly advertised off-roster guns on the company’s Instagram account that he then re-sold in his individual capacity. Additionally, both defendants marketed firearms at gun shows. Neither defendant was licensed individually to engage in the business of dealing in firearms when the illegal gun sales alleged in the indictment took place.
The evidence presented at trial demonstrated how the defendants exploited their position as police officers to ensure the success of their illegal gun selling business. Specifically, Fernandez purchased “off-roster” firearms – mostly Colt .38-caliber handguns that were not available to the general public, but which could be legally purchased by law enforcement officers – and sold dozens of these weapons through private-party transfers. Similarly, Arao obtained “off-roster” weapons by transferring them to himself individually from the inventory of Ronin Tactical Group. Through messages on Instagram and other means, Fernandez and Arao negotiated the prices and terms of firearm sales, and they accepted payment for the guns once they were delivered.
For example, between May 2016 and December 2017, Fernandez negotiated and arranged the sale of 10 firearms to a convicted felon, Oscar Maravilla Camacho Jr., 36, of Salinas. With respect to every sale, Fernandez communicated directly with Camacho Jr. about the firearms purchases and understood that Camacho Jr., as a felon, could not legally buy the weapons. Nevertheless, Fernandez transferred the weapons to Camacho Jr. in violation of federal law.
United States District Judge S. James Otero scheduled a March 2 sentencing hearing, at which time Fernandez will face a statutory maximum of 35 years in federal prison and Arao will face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
Six other defendants in this case have pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for distribution of cocaine, conspiracy to dispose of firearms to a felon, and making false statements that led to the straw purchase of several firearms.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated this case. The Gardena Police Department provided its full cooperation during the investigation.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Katherine A. Rykken of the Major Frauds Section and Veronica Dragalin of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.
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