A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy has agreed to plead guilty to illegally building an assault rifle, marking the first plea agreement by one of 20 sheriff's officials charged or indicted since December in an ongoing federal investigation of the Sheriff's Department, authorities said Monday.
Richard White Piquette admitted in a document filed in federal court last week that he manufactured a Noveske Rifleworks N-4 .223-caliber rifle with an eight-inch barrel. Under federal law, the rifle's barrel length should have been at least 16 inches, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles.
The charge carries up to 10 years in prison. Piquette could formally enter his plea as early as this week, though his sentencing will take place at least several weeks later, Mrozek said.
Piquette, who was previously assigned to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, also admitted possessing a shotgun that had been stolen from the Sheriff's Department and three assault weapons that are banned under California law, according to the plea agreement. The deputy was not charged in connection with those weapons, but his admission will probably affect his sentence.
As part of Piquette's agreement with federal prosecutors, a separate charge of possessing an unregistered short-barreled rifle will be dropped and Piquette must resign from the Sheriff's Department.
Piquette's attorney, Ronald Hedding, described his client as "a good man" who has family members in law enforcement. Hedding said he believed it was common practice for sheriff's deputies to have weapons like the ones his client possessed.
"A lot of these criminals are carrying these types of weapons on the street," Hedding said, adding that Piquette was a jail deputy but had done training stints on patrol.
Piquette's indictment was unsealed in December along with criminal charges against 17 other current or former sheriff's officials, most of whom are accused of assaulting jail inmates or obstructing the FBI's probe of brutality and other misconduct in the county's jail system. Since then, two more deputies have been charged in connection with the investigation.
A Sheriff's Department spokeswoman said Piquette was hired in February 2008 and was relieved of duty on Feb. 18, 2013, the same day federal prosecutors say he was in possession of the weapons. He has been on administrative leave without pay since January 2014, she said.