A Durango man who conspired with a U.S. Navy SEAL to sell explosives and machine guns smuggled in from the Middle East avoided prison time Wednesday, being sentenced instead to eight months of home confinement.
Richard “Rick” Paul, 35, was facing several years in prison after signing a plea agreement Jan. 4, 2011, with the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Nevada.
He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to sell firearms and explosive materials. As part of the plea agreement, Paul agreed to testify against Nicholas Bickle, 34, of San Diego, a former Navy SEAL who was convicted last fall of multiple felony weapons charges, including dealing in stolen firearms.
His cooperation earned him a lighter sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Federal and local law-enforcement agents seized machine guns, grenades and 5 pounds of military C-4 explosive from Paul’s garage Nov. 3, 2010, in the Three Springs subdivision.
Prosecutors said the weapons were smuggled into the United States by Bickle.
Paul and Bickle had been friends for about 18 years, according to court records. They exchanged numerous text messages regarding the illegal sale of firearms.
Paul had two co-defendants – Andrew Kaufman, 37, and Omar Aguirre, 36, both of Las Vegas – who helped Bickle sell the weapons after Bickle returned from Iraq. All three pleaded guilty for their roles before Bickle’s trial in October.
Aguirre was sentenced to five years in prison. Kaufman is scheduled to be sentenced July 31.
Prosecutors said Paul has cooperated with law enforcement since his arrest. His testimony against Bickle was integral to securing a conviction, prosecutors wrote in a motion to reduce mandatory sentencing guidelines in his case.
In addition to serving eight months of home confinement, Paul will be on probation for five years.
The firearms included more than 30 AK-47-type machine guns and about 14 semi-automatic pistols. Some of the machine guns bore a small triangular mark with an Arabic letter used by the Iraqi military that is short for “Jaeesh,” meaning “army” or “military,” according to court documents.
Bickle also stole government-issued ammunition, explosives, grenades and optical sights valued at more than $1,000. He also was convicted of transporting about 5 pounds of C-4 explosives.
Co-conspirators said SEALs are not searched when returning from deployments, which is how Bickle smuggled the guns into the United States.
Bickle began SEAL training in August 2005 and did two tours in Iraq, said a Navy spokeswoman. He received an “other than honorable” military discharge that stripped him of retirement benefits, health care and military honors including the Bronze Star.
The AK-47s were sold for about $1,300 each, and the handguns sold for about $300 each on the black market, according to the complaint.
The investigation began on a tip from a confidential informant who faced felony battery, domestic violence and robbery charges in Nevada, according to court records.
Paul sold 12 machine guns and five semi-automatic pistols to an undercover agent who expressed an intent to smuggle the weapons to Mexico, according to court documents. The first transaction occurred Sept. 8, 2010, at Paul’s former home in Bayfield. A second transaction occurred Oct. 7, 2010, at his new home in the Three Springs subdivision.
Federal agents executed a search warrant Nov. 3, 2010, at Paul’s home and seized an additional 13 machine guns and five pistols.
A former neighbor said Paul worked as an equipment operator for a construction company before his arrest. The neighbor described him as friendly and a hard worker who has children.
firstname.lastname@example.org The Associated Press contributed to this report.