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Man Pleads Guilty in White Supremacist Arms Case : Courts: One of three defendants admits making illegal weapons. But attorney says client had no racist motive.

September 22, 1993|HENRY WEINSTEIN | TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

An Acton man pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges that he conspired with two co-defendants to unlawfully manufacture and sell machine guns and silencers in connection with the activities of white supremacists.

Christopher Berwick, 49, pleaded guilty just before jury selection was to begin in his trial with co-defendants Christian Nadal and Doris Nadal of North Hills, who are accused of selling the illegal weapons to an undercover FBI agent.

With his plea, Berwick admitted that from May, 1992, to July 15, 1993, he made 15 to 17 Sten machine gun receiver tubes for machine gun kits provided by Christian Nadal, as well as silencers and parts used in converting assault rifles to machine guns, according to Gregory Jessner and Lawrence Middleton, assistant U.S. attorneys who are prosecuting the case.

Berwick, a machinist, was one of nine people arrested by the FBI in July and August after an 18-month undercover investigation of white supremacists. Federal prosecutors contend that some of the defendants, though not Berwick or the Nadals, were plotting to assassinate some prominent African-Americans and to blow up the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South-Central Los Angeles.

Berwick has denied he is a white supremacist. On Tuesday, his attorney, Richard M. Callahan, said Berwick made only pieces of certain weapons.

"He did not think they were illegal," Callahan said. "He got in over his head. He regrets it. When he read the evidence about what was going on with the white supremacy movement, it made him sick to his stomach. He had no idea."

In July, federal agents searched Berwick's Saugus trailer and a van at a Burbank business where he works. Copies of search warrants subsequently made public indicated that the agents found weapons and a silencer, as well as gun parts that allegedly could be used to convert legal firearms into machine guns.

Many of the parts seized from Berwick's mobile home match those described in a federal complaint filed against the Nadals. Attorneys for the Nadals have maintained that they were victims of entrapment and have no links to white-supremacist groups.

Jury selection for the Nadal trial was completed Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Jessner said the government will dismiss four other felony counts charging Berwick with manufacturing and possessing machine guns and silencers when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew. The sentencing is set for Dec. 6.

Berwick faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. He is free on $25,000 bail.

"There is no term in the plea agreement that says he has to cooperate" with the government by testifying against the Nadals, Jessner said.

After Berwick pleaded guilty, Thomas Nishi, an attorney for Doris Nadal, said Tuesday he plans to call Berwick as a witness when the government starts presenting evidence against his client today.

However, Berwick's attorney, Richard Callahan, said in court that his client will invoke his 5th Amendment right not to testify on the grounds that he might incriminate himself.

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