News Column

Federal Gun Case Against Reese Family Goes to Jury

Aug. 1, 2012

Brian Fraga

Carrying a large 50-caliber rifle in hand, Deputy U.S. Attorney Aaron O. Jordan told jurors Tuesday that the Reese family of Deming was not responsible in selling such high-powered firearms.

"The defendants did not have the right to arm the cartels ... to sell weapons to anybody willing to pay," Jordan said in his closing arguments in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces.

Defense attorneys countered that the Reeses did not have actual knowledge that any weapons they sold at their family store -- New Deal Shooting Sports -- were purportedly bound for Mexico to arm drug cartels.

"There is no criminal intent," said defense attorney Robert Gorence, who represents Rick Reese.

Jurors began deliberating Tuesday afternoon after closing arguments capped two weeks of testimony in the gun smuggling trial.

Rick Reese, 56, his wife Terri Reese, 49, and their sons, Ryin, 25, and Remington, 20, are facing charges of conspiracy, aiding and abetting smuggling, and making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms.

Prosecutors accuse the defendants of selling 34 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition to an informant and federal agents who posed as straw purchasers in six undercover buys at New Deal from April 2011 to July 2011.

"This case boils down to rights and responsibilities," said Jordan, who accused the defendants of selling firearms and ammunition despite the informant's statements that the guns would be used

to battle Joaquin "El Chapo"" Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel.

Gorence took aim at the government's case, based in large part upon the testimony and cooperation of Jose Roman, a mid-level associate of the Juarez cartel turned informant who implicated the Reeses in alleged gun smuggling after he was arrested on federal marijuana distribution charges in January 2011.

"It's unimaginable that the government wants to vouch for someone who is part of an organization that beheads people," said Gorence, who suggested that federal investigators turned a "blind eye" to Roman's criminal background to go "all-in on an American family that has never been in trouble."

Roman, a frequent customer at New Deal, testified the Reeses sold him firearms even as he talked to them about the firepower being needed in Mexico's cartel wars. Gorence noted that Roman never supplied investigators with any details about stash houses or other Juarez cartel members he worked with.

"(Roman) only wants to talk about the Reeses," Gorence said.

Bernadette Sedillo, defense attorney for Remington Reese, called Roman "an accomplished liar, a thief and a criminal" who was not even completely trusted by the federal case agent in charge of the investigation.

Sedillo told the jury: "If (the case agent) can't trust Jose Roman, then why should you?"

Prosecutors also attacked the defendants' credibility, suggesting that evidence showed discrepancies between the family business' official tax forms and private accounting of income as reflected in Rick Reese's day planner.

Jordan showed several snippets of video recordings from the undercover sales that he said proved the Reeses willingly sold firearms and ammunition to the purported straw purchasers even though Roman selected the weapons, provided the money, and negotiated the sales.

"The evidence is clear. The money is from Roman. The guns are for Roman," Jordan said.

In one recording, Roman is heard saying that the ammunition he buys at New Deal is going to Mexico, and "it's not coming back."

"And if it comes back it's going to be on some guy's body," Roman said.

Rick Reese testified Monday that he considered Roman to "puff up," or exaggerate, his activities in Mexico.

Jordan highlighted a recorded exchange where Rick Reese told Roman he "hoped" his guns would go to Mexico to shoot "federales." Gorence -- who accused prosecutors of "cherry picking" the recordings out of context -- said that statement was made in the context of Reese's political views on gun rights.

The case against the Reese family effectively began in late 2010 when federal investigators confronted Penny Torres, who admitted to straw-purchasing several firearms at New Deal for Roman, according to testimony.

The defense team -- in attacking the notion of criminal intent -- noted that Terri Reese contacted the Luna County Sheriff's Office in 2010 after Torres had purchased seven AK-47 pistols in one day.

Some firearms that Torres bought for Roman were later found in Mexico. However, a 2010 investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms did not note Torres' purchases to be suspicious, according to testimony.

"If (the ATF) didn't find it suspicious, then why would the Reeses think it's suspicious?" Gorence said.

Source: (c)2012 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services

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