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Navy SEAL, 2 others accused of arms smuggling

A Navy SEAL and two other men have been charged with smuggling illegal firearms, including AK-47 assault rifles, from Iraq and Afghanistan and then selling them to an undercover federal agent, the U.S. attorney's office in Las Vegas said.

November 04, 2010|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Diego — A Navy SEAL and two other men have been charged with smuggling illegal firearms, including AK-47 assault rifles, from Iraq and Afghanistan and then selling them to an undercover federal agent, the U.S. attorney's office in Las Vegas announced Thursday.

The SEAL, Nicholas Bickle, 33, is assigned to a SEAL team based in Coronado, Calif. He was arrested Wednesday and scheduled for federal court arraignment in San Diego on Friday.

Richard Paul, 34, of Durango, Colo., and Andrew Kaufman, 36, of Las Vegas were also arrested Wednesday and will be arraigned in those locations, prosecutors said.

The three allegedly sold 18 AK-47s and 14 other firearms to an undercover agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The sales took place in Las Vegas, Durango, and Bayfield, Colo., according to Daniel G. Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada.

According to court documents, 10 AK-47s were sold for $1,300 each and six handguns garnered $300 a piece.

The Russian-designed AK-47, thought by many firearms experts to be the most famous individual weapon of the last century, can fetch a high price on the black market, officials said.

Sturdy, reliable and easy to aim and fire, the AK-47 is used in Iraq and Afghanistan both by insurgents and forces friendly to the U.S.

Bickle is accused of smuggling about 80 AK-47s as well as Iraqi-made weapons. He allegedly bragged that the weapons would be impossible to trace.

U.S. military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are warned repeatedly not to attempt to bring home captured weaponry as souvenirs. So-called "amnesty boxes" are available for troops to leave banned items before leaving for the U.S.

It is illegal to possess an AK-47 without a permit from the U.S. government. It is also illegal to engage in firearms dealing without having paid a special tax.

The weapons were smuggled into the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan by U.S. military special forces personnel, according to federal documents.

If convicted, each defendant could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Federal agents were allegedly tipped off to the suspected smuggling conspiracy by someone facing felony charges of domestic violence and robbery. In documents, he is listed as a cooperating source.

tony.perry@latimes.com

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