Durango man accused in plot to smuggle weapons out of Iraq, sell to Mexico

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (KKCO) - Grenades and night-vision goggles also were found in the Durango, Colo., home of 34-year-old Richard Paul, according to federal prosecutors and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents in Las Vegas and Colorado.

Paul and Andrew Kaufman, 36, of Las Vegas, were arrested Wednesday and appeared Thursday before federal magistrate judges in Durango and Las Vegas on conspiracy charges. Each was ordered held in federal custody pending an evidentiary hearing.

They are accused of conspiring with Navy SEAL Nicholas Bickle of San Diego to smuggle and sell weapons to an undercover federal agent in Nevada and Colorado.

"As long as they got paid ... they didn't care if the weapons wound up in Mexico or on the streets of Las Vegas," federal prosecutor Drew Smith told U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. in Las Vegas.

Smith characterized Bickle, 33, as a "rogue Navy SEAL" — an active-duty special warfare operator 1st class who Smith said also worked as a consultant on the Hollywood movie "Transformers 3."

Bickle was arrested Wednesday and was due to appear Friday before a federal magistrate judge in San Diego.

Smith said outside court that federal agents expected to find weapons, but were surprised to find five pounds of C-4 plastic explosive, blasting cap detonators and other military items at Paul's home in Colorado.

Brad Briersdorf, a Colorado-based ATF spokesman, said there were no evacuations of the neighborhood while agents removed the military-grade explosive. C-4 is a stable compound that requires an initiator or a blasting cap to cause a blast.

Briersdorf declined to elaborate about the destructive power of the explosives found in Paul's home.

Smith said federal agents were still serving search warrants Thursday at Bickle's home, vehicle and a storage unit in the San Diego area.

"What we have here is simply greed at any cost," Smith told the judge in Las Vegas.

Bickle is accused in a criminal complaint of smuggling 80 AK-47 weapons from Iraq or Afghanistan, including factory-made 7.62 mm Iraqi machine guns that would be difficult or impossible to trace. Other weapons included Ruger handguns of the type used by U.S. military police officers.

"According to the other members of the organization, this was possible because Navy SEALs are not searched when returning from deployments," the criminal complaint said.

Las Vegas-based ATF Special Agent Eric Fox alleged in a criminal complaint filed Oct. 29 that at least one of the accused coconspirators bragged that the guns were from the military in the Middle East and would be untraceable.

The investigation began with a tip from a fourth man, an ex-felon turned confidential informant facing felony battery domestic violence and robbery charges in Nevada. He is cooperating with authorities and was not charged in the federal case.

Neither the informant nor the undercover agent was identified.

Bickle is quoted in the complaint as warning the informant of the consequences of turning against him.

"If you ever (expletive) me, you know who we are," he is quoted as saying. "We're the government, we'll catch you."

Smith said Bickle, his close friend, Paul, in Colorado, and their associate Kaufman in Nevada sold machine guns for $1,300 to $2,400 each, and handguns for $300 to an undercover federal agent who told them they would be shipped to Mexico.

The prosecutor said the group could have reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars selling arms over the last year.

Smith told Foley that prosecutors expect to seek an indictment in Las Vegas on charges including distribution of explosive materials, arms smuggling and illegal firearms dealing. He said the explosives charge carries a possible sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

Ben Nadig, Kaufman's lawyer, declined comment before and after the brief court appearance.

Alex Chavarria Tejada, lawyer for Paul in Durango, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

The complaint accuses the trio of conspiring to smuggle and sell 18 weapons and 14 other firearms since June to an undercover federal agent in Las Vegas and Colorado. The single conspiracy charge carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

It alleges that Bickle, Kaufman and Paul engaged in firearms dealing without paying a special tax, possessed a machine gun that wasn't registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, and transferred an unregistered machine gun.

Associated Press writer P. Solomon Banda in Denver contributed to this report.


KKCO NBC 11 News 2531 Blichmann Avenue Grand Junction, CO 81505 Station Phone: 970.243.1111 Business Fax: 970.243.1770 Newsroom Fax: 970.245.3793 News Tip & Contest Line: 970.255.8477
Gray Television, Inc. - Copyright © 2002-2014 - Designed by Gray Digital Media - Powered by Clickability 106753194 - nbc11news.com/a?a=106753194