Two Gardena police officers have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of using their position to acquire firearms and illegally selling more than 100 of the weapons to others, including a convicted felon.
Det. Carlos Miguel Fernandez, 42, Officer Edward Yasushiro Arao, 47, face a combined five felony counts, including conspiring to deal in firearms without a license, according to the indictment unsealed Friday in U.S. District Court.
In one 2017 sale, Fernandez knew he was selling to a straw buyer who wasn't the actual person getting the gun, according to the indictment. The person who eventually received the weapon was a convicted felon banned from possessing firearms.
Fernandez, of Norwalk, advertised guns for sale on his Instagram account "the38superman," according to the indictment. Arao, chief executive of Ronin Tactical Group, a federal firearms licensee, also used that company's Instagram account to sell firearms, the indictment alleges.
The 25-page indictment alleges that from 2015 to September 2017, the two officers exploited their positions to deal 101 firearms to people barred from owning or selling such weapons unless they are in law enforcement or the military. It marks the latest move by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to curtail the abuse of special privileges afforded police officers in purchasing firearms.
The indictment comes three weeks after a Pasadena police lieutenant who formerly served as the department's spokesman was indicted on federal charges of selling dozens of guns without a license.
Previously, the ATF issued a memorandum to Southern California police chiefs warning that sales of illegal firearms is an "emerging problem" for officers.
The two Gardena officers, both 17-year department veterans, were placed on administrative leave.
"We are deeply concerned about the case," said Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano. "This type of conduct is inconsistent with our organizational values and the ethics of our profession and will not be tolerated by the Gardena Police Department."
In California, firearms manufactured, imported, sold or lent must be on a roster of handguns that are deemed safe. Only those who are exempt — including police officers — can purchase so-called off-roster guns.
Fernandez purchased off-roster firearms — mostly Colt .38-caliber handguns that were not available to the public, according to the indictment.
Arao, of Eastvale, obtained off-roster weapons from the inventory of Ronin Tactical Group, the indictment alleges. Through messages on Instagram and other means, Fernandez and Arao negotiated prices and terms of firearm sales, and accepted payment for the guns once they were delivered, according to the indictment. The pair would also market off-roster firearms at gun shows. Neither Fernandez nor Arao was licensed to deal firearms, the charges allege.
The indictment naming the officers was unsealed Friday afternoon after two other named defendants in the case were arraigned in federal court on charges that they engaged in a "straw purchase" involving a gun sold through Fernandez.
Oscar Morales Camacho Sr., 63, of Salinas falsely certified that he was purchasing a firearm for himself in a July 2017 private-party transfer. In fact, he was buying the gun for his son, Oscar Maravilla Camacho Jr., 34, also of Salinas, according to the indictment.
Camacho Jr. has a prior criminal conviction that prohibits him from possessing firearms. The indictment alleges that Fernandez and both of the Camachos "well knew [that] defendant Camacho Sr. was not the actual buyer of the firearm."
Both of the Camachos pleaded not guilty at their arraignments last week. They were ordered to stand trial May 31. The firearm involved was a Colt Commander .38-caliber pistol.
Fernandez, according to the indictment, would frequently have direct message conversations with buyers who spotted his Instagram posts, including one transaction in which he advertised a "Colt .38 Super LW Commander 100% authentic locked and loaded for sale!" That weapon and others can fetch boutique prices in California.
The indictment alleges a second straw purchase in which a South Los Angeles woman bought two firearms for her boyfriend. Bianca Elizabeth Ibarria, 23, and Adalberto deJesus Vasquez Pelayo Jr., 24, also of South Los Angeles, are charged with making a false statement in a federal firearm licensee's records during the purchase of a firearm.
Fernandez is named in three counts of the indictment and Arao in two counts. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
The two officers, along with Ibarria and Pelayo, are slated to also appear in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on April 3.