WEST PALM BEACH -- Two former cops cops sold hundreds of guns illegally because they wanted to make money, a federal prosecutor told a jury here on Monday.
“This case is about greed,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam McMichael during his opening statement in the trial of Rafael and Tammy Valdes, former police officers for Hialeah and Golden Beach, respectively, who face charges of illegal gun-dealing and filing false tax returns.
Whether or not the Valdeses, who were indicted in December 2012, were making a living off their gun sales is central to the government’s case. Federal law holds that hobbyists can buy and sell guns without a license as long as they are not making their livelihood from it.
The couple are accused of illegally dealing firearms since 2005. According to the indictment, they sold more than 200 weapons online and more than 500 at gun shows in South Florida.
Additional charges were added in late July. Rafael Valdes is also accused of transporting gun parts he knew were stolen from the Hialeah Police Department.
McMichael said the indictment resulted from a nearly two-year investigation in which undercover ATF agents found the Valdeses had been attending gun shows around South Florida, buying and selling guns to make a profit without reporting their income to the Internal Revenue Service, and in one case, skirting requirements to file proper ATF paperwork for background checks.
"They offered the opportunity to by a gun without any background check," McMichael said. "No questions asked."
Defense attorney Michael Feiler deferred his opening statements to after the prosecution rests its case.
Edward Halley, an ATF agent who oversaw the first few months of the agency’s investigation into the Valdeses, testified that the size and variety of inventory that the Valdeses were moving indicated that they were running a gun business.
On cross examination, Feiler pointed out that ATF policy calls for a warning letter to be sent within days of firearms violations being suspected at gun shows.
He pointed to the first report on the investigation, dated August 2009, which came about a month after the first activity of the investigation.
Halley maintained that all policies were followed.
“It’s a rare instance that we do that,” said Halley, adding that ATF was investigating an individual, not a gun show. “In 31 years, I’ve sent out maybe one or two letters.”
Rafael Valdes had been reassigned to desk duty in Hialeah following the initial indictment. When the charges in July were added, he retired after the department started the process to have him fired.
Tammy Valdes had previously made headlines in 2012 when she successfully sued Golden Beach claiming she was fired after complaining about harassment from a supervisor and officers “double dipping” by working off-duty security jobs while on duty.
Feiler represented her in that case, which saw Valdes awarded $158,000 in back pay and $75,000 for pain and suffering. She was offered her job back, as well, but she chose to retire.
Rafael Valdes could face up to 28 years in prison his charges. Tammy Valdes could get up to eight years. Both could pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
The defense is expected to open its case this week.
Follow @joeflech on Twitter.