WEST PALM BEACH -- After two weeks in trial and about three hours of deliberation Friday evening, a federal jury convicted two former cops of illegally dealing hundreds of guns, transporting gun parts stolen from the Hialeah Police Department and filing false tax returns.
The trial of Rafael and Tammy Valdes ended with Tammy crumbling in her husband’s arms, sobbing loudly after the jury delivered a guilty verdict on all counts.
Rafael Valdes, a former officer and head of firearms in Hialeah, and Tammy Valdes, a former Golden Beach cop, were indicted on charges of dealing guns without a license in December. Additional charges were added in late July. Now, Tammy faces up to eight years in prison, and Rafael could get up to 28 years.
In its case against the husband-and-wife duo, the prosecution painted the couple’s buying and selling of firearms at gun shows around South Florida as a business that brought in income that went unreported to the IRS.
According to federal law, hobbyists can buy and sell guns without a license as long as they are not making their livelihood from it. To get a conviction, the government had to prove that the Valdeses “knowingly and willingly” broke the law.
In his closing arguments, prosecutor Adam McMichael told the jury the Valdeses had made it clear through purchasing and selling hundreds of firearms at gun shows and online, often times for profits recorded by Rafael, that they were looking to make money.
“It was about individuals who were employed as law enforcement officers who decided to do something else to put money in their pockets,” he said.
Defense attorney Michael Feiler said the Valdeses were fervent enthusiasts who did not know their activity may have been illegal.
“In this case, ignorance of the law is an absolute defense,” he told the jury.
Feiler lambasted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for not warning the Valdeses, who often had tables set up next to ATF informational tents at guns shows, about federal firearms laws they may have been violating. Instead, the ATF gathered evidence against the Valdeses through an undercover investigation.
“Why not just go up and identify yourselves as ATF agents?” he asked the jury.
He argued that although the Valdeses may have been careless, the prosecution did not prove that the Valdeses knowingly and willingly break the law.
Earlier in the week, the government’s star witness was Jose Quintana, a former police officer whose gun-collecting hobby grew into a business — so much so that he was convicted of illegal gun-dealing.
He met the Valdeses when they started going to gun shows. They often had tables next to each other, and Quintana testified to seeing Rafael routinely flip guns for profit.
“I would say it was the same as me,” he said. “I was selling guns to make a profit.”
Quintana made it clear he hoped to get his sentence reduced by testifying against the Valdeses, a fact that the defense used to discredit him.
After the verdict was handed out just before 8 p.m. Friday, the Valdeses remained out on bond until sentencing. Feiler did not rule out an appeal.
“We’re obviously very disappointed and shocked,” Feiler said. “We’ll look at all of our post-trial options.”
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