By Jeff Knox and Chris Knox
After almost a year in jail and a three-week trial, a jury has declared the members of the Reese family not guilty on 24 of the 28 counts against them. The jury did convict three of the four family members of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms. Remington Reese, the 20-year old younger son, was acquitted of all charges, while his older brother, Ryin was found guilty on two counts and his father and mother, Rick and Terri, were found guilty on one count each. The charges carry a potential sentence of five years and $50,000 for each count, but those convicted typically receive sentences of about one year.
Those sentences are what judges give to the criminals who knowingly and intentionally lie on federal forms though, not firearms dealers who "should have known" that customers were lying to them. It's quite possible that, as federally licensed firearms dealers, the Reeses will be held to a higher standard and receive tougher sentences. Sentencing is scheduled for early October. Rick and Ryin will continue to be held without bail, but Terri will remain out on bail until sentence is passed. Remington was released from custody at the conclusion of the trial.
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As reported previously in this column, Rick Reese and his family ran a gun shop outside of Deming, N.M., for more than 17 years. Over that time they built up the business into a profitable enterprise, and Rick had planned to retire and close the store. His eldest son, Ryin, 24, was in the process of obtaining a Federal Firearms License, or FFL, of his own and was opening a store in nearby Las Cruces, N.M. In August of last year, local ATF agents asked the family to come down to their offices to discuss Ryin's FFL application. When the family showed up at the ATF office, they were arrested on charges of conspiring to illegally sell firearms and assist in smuggling them to Mexico, money laundering (because they supposedly knew the money paying for the guns had come from illegal activities) and making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms.
At the same time, a task force led by Homeland Security Investigations – including hundreds of federal, state, county and local officers, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and numerous police cruisers – stormed the Reese property where the store and the Reese home is located. Officers held an elderly couple, who were camping on the property, at gunpoint as they searched the couple's RV. Other officers broke into the store and the basement storage space where they confiscated the store's inventory, hundreds of guns, almost 2 million rounds of ammunition and more than a dozen empty gun safes. Officers also broke into the Reese home and seized firearms, jewelry, cash and a coin collection Rick Reese had been building since he was a young boy. Vehicles, bank accounts and real estate were also seized. Federal prosecutors initiated forfeiture proceedings last December in an effort to make the seizures permanent before the family even went to trial, which locked up most of the family's assets leaving them with little means to pay for legal assistance to fight the charges and the forfeiture efforts.
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All of this happened to the backdrop of breaking news about agents of the ATF and Department of Justice instructing firearms dealers to sell large numbers of guns and ammunition to known Mexican arms traffickers in an operation called "Fast and Furious." In all, about 2,000 guns were allowed to "walk" out of federal control or monitoring, and most of them ended up in the hands of criminals in Mexico. Two of those guns were subsequently found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. It has since been discovered that this was not the only gunwalking operation ATF has run in the past several years.
After the Reeses were arrested, U.S. Attorney Ken Gonzales declared, "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." Gonzales continued, "This case serves to put firearms dealers on notice that they will be held accountable for any failure to comply with federal firearms laws."
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Observers who have been following the "Fast and Furious" debacle, which has led to a contempt of Congress charge against Attorney General Eric Holder – yet led to no serious personnel actions against those responsible, much less criminal charges – marveled that U.S. Attorney Gonzales could make that statement with a straight face. Absent an accounting for "Fast and Furious," aggressively going after gun dealers whose primary crimes appear to have been either paperwork errors or a lack of a psychic ability to read a buyer's mind is an outrage.
It is not yet known whether the family members will be credited with time served, and the question of whether the property seized from them will ever be returned to them is still up in the air. The fact that they currently stand as convicted felons means that they cannot possess firearms or ammunition, much less run a gun shop. The family business is gone for the foreseeable future, and forever if the convictions are not overturned. The assets of the store are likely to be forfeited, so the family can't even cover some of the legal expenses by selling out.
There is a provision in federal law specifically designed to protect gun dealers from having their inventory confiscated. That protection was included in the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act, or FOPA. The Reese family lawyers filed a motion for the trial judge to enforce those protections, but he rejected the motion pre-trial. He might allow it now that the trial is over. One of the problems though is that much of the protection of the FOPA could be nullified by the Reeses' convictions. The law requires that prosecutors specifically name each item being seized and identify specifically how it was being, or was intended to be, used in a crime. The act also specifically forbids forfeiture of firearms and inventory after a not guilty verdict. Whether some of that protection remains in light of the Reeses' convictions is a question for the lawyers to hash through.
So Rick and Ryin Reese begin their 12th month in jail with a little relief and a dash of hope. Compared to what prosecutors were trying to do to them, one felony conviction may seem like a gift. Now the lawyers go to work on appeals and restoration of property, and the Reese family members wonder if they will be spending another Christmas apart.