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Gun Cache Probe Takes Anti-Castro Turn

April 20, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A Cuban exile arrested on suspicion of stashing more than 1,000 guns in his Upland home told federal authorities that the weapons were for a quasi-military group bent on overthrowing President Fidel Castro, but police officials said that may be a cover story for a black-market gun ring.

Federal agents on Wednesday found hundreds of additional firearms as well as live hand grenades in a follow-up search of the San Bernardino County home of Robert Ferro, 61, a retired Army Special Forces officer, adding to the 875 guns and automatic weapons confiscated Friday.

Ferro told federal investigators that he was a member of Alpha 66, "a militant group who collectively desire to overthrow Fidel Castro and liberate the country of Cuba," according to an affidavit filed in federal court by Special Agent Keith Krolczyk of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Ferro said the organization of Cuban exiles paid for the guns and had other caches of weapons, according to the court document.

Ferro's wife appeared surprised when she learned of his comments about overthrowing Castro.

"To hear this is shocking. I don't know what's going on. I don't understand it," Maria Ferro said as she watched federal agents search her home. "I know he wants Castro out of Cuba, but I didn't know the other things he wanted to get into."

She also said that she was aware that her husband had a gun collection -- but not one so vast.

Ferro's arrest on federal weapons charges comes more than a decade after he was accused of running a paramilitary camp on a Pomona chicken ranch to train Mexican nationals to overthrow Castro.

Authorities found 5 pounds of the explosive C-4 at the ranch, and in 1992, Ferro was convicted of possessing illegal explosives and sentenced to two years in prison.

Federal, state and local police raided Ferro's home Friday as part of an investigation into a man accused of wounding his wife and a Glendora police officer in separate shootings.

The suspected gunman, Frank Fidel Beltran, 36, of La Verne, was arrested March 27 at a Rancho Cucamonga home owned by Ferro. Beltran eluded capture after allegedly shooting a police officer responding to a domestic disturbance call, and then allegedly shooting his estranged wife weeks later in San Dimas.

When he was arrested after a standoff, Beltran had a handgun with a silencer and an assault rifle, authorities said.

"Those are similar weapons to the ones we're finding at this [Ferro's] home," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Lt. Randall Stover.

Along with federal gun violations, Ferro is accused of harboring a fugitive. Ferro's arraignment in U.S. District Court in Riverside was postponed until today, and he plans to plead not guilty, according to his attorney, Wayne M. Rozenberg.

Rozenberg requested the postponement, in part, because Ferro, who wears a pacemaker, did not have his prescribed heart medication Wednesday. Ferro was in the medical unit at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, Rozenberg said.

Authorities said that the stockpile of guns was probably being sold on the black market from Ferro's home, at gun shows, swap meets and by appointment at Upland's Finest Collectibles Gallery, which his wife operates.


Times staff writers Jonathan Abrams and Susannah Rosenblatt contributed to this report.

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