Ex-DEA agent gets probation for selling ARs to 'members of a drug trafficking organization' on border

Although federal prosecutors sought jail time, citing memories of Fast and Furious gun-walking scandals, the former Drug Enforcement Agency agent was given probation on weapon charges.

Joseph Gill, 42, was sentenced on Monday to five years probation with the first six months of the term spent in home detention after pleading guilty last October to two counts of illegally dealing firearms. While investigators determined he may have been sold as many as 100 guns in private transactions over the past several years, it was the sale of two AR-15s to members of a drug trafficking organization in 2016 that triggered his arrest.

In a memo to the court penned by Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Smith prior to sentencing, the prosecutor argued that Gill should receive at least 18 months jail time, followed by three years probation and a $100,000 fine, saying, “He sold weapons when he knew he should not have, and under circumstances which he should not have.”

A former supervisory special agent assigned to the border town of Nogales, Arizona, court documents show that Gill came under scrutiny after he sold “scores” of guns without a federal firearms license. Although at one time he had an ATF Curio and Relics (C&R) license, the type typically maintained by collectors of vintage firearms, he let it lapse. Similarly, he withdrew a further application for an FFL.

In the case of the ARs sold in 2016, Gill purchased three rifles for $632 each through an online retailer in Kentucky and had them shipped to a local FFL in Arizona. He then resold two of them for $1,000 each the next month in two transactions to men that he “had reason to believe intended to use or dispose of the firearm unlawfully.” One of the guns was subsequently recovered by federal agents.

While Gill, charged last August after he resigned from the DEA, later entered a guilty plea that opened him up to as much as five years in prison, his attorney argued to the court that he had an otherwise exemplary career and his crime was “one of willful ignorance.”

To this, Smith scoffed, saying, “The defendant was a sworn federal agent at the time he committed this crime, and he knew what he was doing was a crime and did it anyway—all for personal profit.”

Further, Smith invoked the notorious gun-walking scandal that allowed licensed firearm dealers to sell guns illegally in hopes of tracking the weapons back to trans-border drug cartels. “Perhaps most shockingly, the defendant committed this crime with assumed knowledge of the infamous joint DEA-ATF ‘Operation Fast and Furious,’ which resulted in a federal agent being murdered by a weapon that had been acquired illegally by a straw purchaser and had ended up in Mexico,” Smith said.

Nogales straddles the border with Mexico, with part of the city in Arizona and part in the Mexican state of Sonora. Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, was killed northwest of the city in 2010 with a gun that had been purchased by an Operation Fast and Furious subject.

In addition to his probation, Gill received a $15,000 fine, with orders to pay it off $250 per month.

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