A Navy SEAL in California and men in Nevada and Colorado have been arrested and accused of smuggling machine guns from Iraq into the United States for resale on the black market, federal authorities said Thursday.
The special forces SEAL, Nicholas Bickle, 33, of San Diego, Las Vegas resident Andrew Kaufman, 36, and Richard Paul, 34, of Durango, Colo., were arrested Wednesday in those cities, the U.S. attorney's office in Las Vegas said.
A complaint filed Oct. 29 and unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas accuses the trio of conspiring to smuggle and sell 18 weapons and 14 other firearms since June to an undercover federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent in Las Vegas and Colorado.
Bickle is accused of smuggling about 80 AK-47 weapons from Iraq or Afghanistan, including factory-made 7.62 mm Iraqi machine guns that the complaint said would be difficult or impossible to trace. Other weapons included Ruger handguns.
"According to the other members of the organization, this was possible because Navy SEALs are not searched when returning from deployments," the document said.
Bickle began SEALs training in August 2005 and did two tours in Iraq, said Lt. Cate Wallace, a Navy spokeswoman. He is currently assigned to a SEALs team on the West Coast.
"This type of behavior is not reflective of the character within the Navy SEALs community," Wallace said.
The investigation began on tip from a confidential informant who faced felony battery domestic violence and robbery charges in Nevada and is cooperating with authorities, the complaint said. Neither the informant nor the undercover agent is identified.
Las Vegas-based ATF Special Agent Eric Fox alleges in the complaint 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 complaint cited text message and bank records, and said at least one sale involved 10 AK-47 rifles for $1,300 each, and six handguns at $300 apiece.
The conspiracy charge 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.
If convicted, each faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A statement from Daniel Bogden, U.S. attorney in Las Vegas, said Bickle was due to appear Thursday in federal court in San Diego.
Paul appeared Wednesday in federal court in Durango, and was ordered held pending another hearing Thursday, Bogden said.
Kaufman was due Thursday before a federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas.