Barack Obama has nominated U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Ken Gonzales to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge. This nomination is particularly significant because Gonzales was the U.S. attorney who oversaw the investigation, arrest and prosecution of the Reese family. At the time of the Reese’s arrest, Gonzales had the audacity to release a statement saying, “Those who sell firearms knowing that they will be illegally smuggled into Mexico to arm Mexican cartels share responsibility for the violence that has been devastating Mexico.” So far, he has not called for the prosecution of any of the federal agents or administrators who oversaw the sale of some 2,000 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition to Mexican gun smugglers in Operation Fast and Furious.
Gonzales has much to be thankful for this season, but what about the Reese family? For them, being thankful is a relative term. The Reese family is thankful that, so far, the bad they’ve suffered has not been as bad as it could have been. They have been so abused, harassed and persecuted that they feel thankful for the crumbs of “less bad” news that comes their way. They’re thankful that federal agents arrested them while they were away from their home rather than taking them during the massive raid involving hundreds of officers, helicopters and armored vehicles. They were thankful last March when, after eight months in jail, Terri Reese was released on bail to a halfway house. They were especially thankful when youngest son, Remington, was acquitted of all charges (after spending a year in jail), and they were thankful when Terri; husband , Rick; and older son, Ryin, were cleared of all but one count each, two for Ryin, of the comparatively minor charge of lying on gun sales forms – even though the lies they were convicted of were perpetrated by federal agents and the Reeses’ crimes were that they “should have known” that the agents were lying.
They were thankful for these terrible events because they could have been so much worse. Rather than face sentences of time-served or a year or two in prison, they could have faced the likelihood of decades-long sentences. Rather than living in a halfway house with thieves and drug addicts, Terri could have remained in jail with thieves and drug addicts. Remington could have been convicted and spent his 21st birthday in prison as he did his 20th. Remington is particularly thankful this week to be able to hold hands with his mother and grandparents as they pray that Rick and Ryin might soon be with them again. They have remained in jail for more than a year and have waited since August for sentences to be handed down.
More than anything else, today the Reeses are thankful for their dedicated family members, friends and total strangers who read about their plight and who together provided the monetary support needed to allow them to hire competent attorneys to defend them in court after virtually everything they owned was seized by federal agents, leaving them with no way to pay for their own legal defense. The legal challenges aren’t over yet, and the Reeses still owe their attorneys tens of thousands of dollars, but, again, overwhelming debt is a blessing compared to years of incarceration or death.
Remington is back in his apartment in a back corner of the Reeses’ 85-acre homestead outside Deming, N.M. His mother is back in her home as well, though it has been a struggle to remain there. A probation officer raised concerns that Terri – a 45-year-old wife, mother and, until this tragic mess, a model citizen – might be a flight risk and a threat to the community. In response, the judge ordered that, unless Terri could prove that there were no “dangerous weapons” anywhere on the property – including Remington’s guns locked in a safe in his apartment – even down to a single loaded round of ammunition, she would have to go back to living in a halfway house. She and Remington are thankful that friends and family spent weeks combing the property for knives, hatchets, blow-dart guns and the seemingly endless supply of loose ammo hiding in parts drawers, under appliances, in dusty recesses in the garage and mixed in with spent brass in the gravel of the on-site shooting range. Terri got special permission to keep an ax for splitting firewood and is, for the time being, allowed to stay in her home where she is recuperating from surgery to remove a large tumor from her leg.
Rick, Terri and Ryin are all still awaiting sentencing, and Rick and Ryin remain in jail – after more than a year. Presentencing reports are just being completed, and sentencing is expected to take place within the next few weeks. There is little hope that the family will be allowed to recover any of the near 200 guns and almost 2 million rounds of ammunition seized from them, and the feds are working hard to retain the $150,000 in cash, a coin collection and jewelry also valued at close to $150,000, several vehicles and the family’s home and land.
Were it not for the generous support of family, friends and concerned citizens, the Reeses would not have had enough to even hire an attorney. They are struggling to find the funds to mount a defense in the civil forfeiture case, and if they don’t recover at least some of their seized assets, they will be left destitute, homeless and with no means of income – after they complete whatever sentences get handed down.
I have visited the Reese property, walked through their barren, looted gun shop, looked at the holes knocked in the walls of their home and met and talked with Terri and Remington. These are good, hardworking people who love their country and the Constitution. Perhaps they weren’t as careful about some sales as they should have been, or perhaps they were just victims of overzealous investigators and prosecutors. The government had to really stretch to get convictions on the relatively minor charges that they did, and there was no evidence presented to suggest any pattern of long-term illegal or unethical behavior by the Reeses. It all boils down to something else U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales said when the Reeses were arrested: “This case serves to put firearms dealers on notice that they will be held accountable for any failure to comply with federal firearms laws.” His “example” continues as his prosecutors are using information, not just from the Reese convictions, but from their indictments – charges for which they have been cleared – in both their sentencing and civil forfeiture proceedings.
This week as I was counting my blessings, I wrote out a personal check to the Reese defense fund, and then wrote another from The Firearms Coalition. I am exceedingly thankful for my family and friends, and very aware that this atrocity could have befallen any of us. I’m sincerely thankful it didn’t happen to me.
Financial support for the Reeses can be sent toReese Defense Fund:
Attention: Patricia Arias
First Savings Bank
520 South Gold
Deming, N.M. 88030