Last week saw two men, Andrew Kaufman, 36, and Omar Aguirre, 35, accept plea agreements from Federal prosecutors in Las Vegas, Nevada after both copped to charges pertaining to conspiracy to sell illegal weapons. Their scheme, which aimed to sell a variety of weapons including machine guns and explosives smuggled into the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan, became even more hellacious when, after a lengthy undercover investigation by the ATF, it was revealed the two men were partnered with a Navy SEAL.
Painted by the prosecution as a “rogue” operator, active-duty Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Nicholas Bickle, 33, was in fact the racket’s Golden Goose and chief architect. He supplied the weapons to be sold throughout the Western United States by Kaufman, Aguirre in Vegas and San Diego and Bickle’s own connection from Colorado, Richard Paul. Bickle was only able to smuggle these arms because Navy SEALS bags are not searched when re-entering the country after deployment.
As if the story wasn’t thick enough, things take an even stranger (if not oddly suited) twist when you consider that Bickle also split his time between gun-running and working on the new Michael Bay flick, Transformers 3. And we can just smell a film adaptation coming our way. Court documents reveal the crew’s dynamics to have all the subtlety of a summer Blockbuster and all the archetypal players present and accounted for, from unnerved snitches to a steely professional to a reckless cowboy (not to mention the off-the-rez Navy SEAL is a ready-made nod to another gun-toting “Bickle”).
Paul, who authorities believe to be the principle distributor, boasted at one point to an undercover agent, “There is still Iraqi sand in this shit” and more than once brokered gun sales via outlandish text messages. He was also picked up with over five pounds of C-4.
By far the most disciplined and for that matter cautious of the group, Bickle told yet another co-conspirator (and eventual informant, who dimed the group to the feds and ultimately brought down the house of cards), “If you ever fuck with me, you know who we are. We’re the government, we’ll catch you.”
This threat (unbecoming of a man in uniform) obviously fell on deaf ears. Both Kaufman and Aguirre are expected to testify against Bickle and Paul, who, if convicted, could spend a good chunk of their lives behind bars. James Pokorny of San Diego, Mr. Bickle’s attorney, has made known his desire for an extension on the discovery in order for he and his client to better review the government’s evidence. “The case is still in its infancy,” Pokorny said. “A lot more will be revealed as this case goes forward.”
Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for US Attorney in Vegas communicated that Bickle and Paul have entered not guilty pleas on charges ranging from conspiracy, weapons, explosives, firearms trafficking, weapon registration and dealing in firearms without a license. Presiding US District Court Judge Lloyd George has permitted both Bickle and Paul to remain free until their January 24th trial.
Under the terms of their plea agreements, Aguirre, who was unnamed prior to the November 3rd arrests of Kaufman, Bickle and Paul, faces up to five years in prison for simple conspiracy while Kaufman is staring at a hefty 15 years in a Federal prison. US District Court Judge Lloyd George will hand down a sentence on March 25.
The gun-runners are thought to have smuggled and sold around 70 firearms and 84 machine guns. Handguns sold for around $300—machine guns for $1300. The machine guns were mostly AK-47s with several bearing “Iraqi Army” stamps. Manufactured in Russia, Romania and other locations in that region, the AKs will be next to impossible to trace.
In a summary of the case, Federal Prosecutor Drew Smith said the men were motivated by pure profit, stating they “didn’t care if the weapons wound up in Mexico or on the streets of Las Vegas.”