Former Bernalillo County Sheriff and Undersheriff Named in Federal Gun Indictment
Updated: Oct 26
BY ABQ RAW Staff
POSTED 10/26/2023 @ 4:45PM
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Former police chiefs from North Dakota and North Carolina are in trouble in Maryland for supposedly working together to obtain machine guns and other firearms illegally. Court records suggest that this may involve more states too.
The issue in both cases revolves around something called "law letters." These letters were sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to allow the purchase of firearms that are typically not sold to the public, like fully automatic machine guns and short-barreled rifles.
There's a rule that allows licensed gun dealers to buy machine guns as samples to show to potential law enforcement or military customers. But they can only do this if the agency they represent sends a special letter, also known as a "demo letter."
The charges, which were made public on Thursday, accuse five people, including the police chiefs of Coats, North Carolina, and Ray, North Dakota, of misusing these letters.
The indictment also mentions two law enforcement officers from New Mexico who are not charged in this case. "M.G.," the former sheriff for Bernalillo County, sent 127 letters to the ATF to request demonstrations of approximately 598 firearms, of which about 7 firearms were imported by Sullivan. "R.M.," the former police chief of Pueblo Laguna, sent 17 letters requesting demonstrations of approximately 414 firearms, of which about 13 firearms were imported by Sullivan. The federal indictment said BCSO discontinued the use of fully automatic weapons in 2013 and for the Sheriff to obtain them, they would have to go through a special process with the County.
The "M.G." is former Sheriff Manny Gonzales and "R.M" is Rudy Mora who was Gonzales, undersheriff for one of his terms as BCSO Sheriff. Mora moved on to police chief of Laguna Pueblo.
Federal prosecutors claim that these individuals worked together to get machine guns by falsely claiming that they needed them for demonstrations to law enforcement agencies. However, it seems like there was never any intention to actually demonstrate these guns to the police. For instance, the Coats and Ray police departments, which were based in small towns, didn't have heavily armed units like SWAT teams.
Current BCSO Sheriff John Allen gave us this statement:
The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office is aware of a recent indictment of law enforcement officials by the US Attorney's Office in Maryland, which mentions former BCSO Sheriff “M.G.” and “R.M.,” the former police chief of Pueblo Laguna as participants in an alleged illegal machine gun distribution scheme. Sheriff Allen takes such allegations seriously and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has been in communication with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the US Attorney's Office in Maryland, and New Mexico, as well as the New Mexico Attorney General's Office regarding this matter. Under the leadership of Sheriff John Allen, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office is devoted to ensuring we cooperate with all partners to investigate any form of corruption. Due to the ongoing investigation, Sheriff Allen will not be providing interviews related to the indictment at this time.
Among those charged, James Sawyer, 50, was the chief of police of the Ray Police Department in Ray, North Dakota. The city of Ray has maintained a population of fewer than 1,000 residents, and the indictment states that its police department had just one sworn law enforcement officer, who was Sawyer. Sawyer reportedly signed and submitted 32 law letters to request demonstrations of more than 70 firearms.
Matthew Jeremy Hall, 53, was the chief of police of the Coats Police Department in Coats, North Carolina, a small town with about 2,000 residents. The indictment mentions that the Coats Police Department did not have a SWAT unit. Hall submitted 53 letters to request demonstrations of 92 firearms.
Two of the machine guns that were cited in the federal indictment.
The letters were apparently coordinated with three federal firearms licensees, all of whom now face charges. These individuals include Sean Reidpath Sullivan, 38, of Gambrills, who also worked as an intelligence analyst with the Department of Homeland Security; Larry Allen Vickers, the owner of VT Guns in North Carolina, known on YouTube; and James Christopher Tafoya, who owned two federally licensed firearms businesses in Albuquerque and also operated another gun business called Woody's Weapons, which was owned by his half-brother.
The indictment mentions a few other people who are not charged but are referred to using partial identifiers, such as C.F., a Phoenix resident known for collecting high-end firearms and conducting business with Sullivan, and J.B., a federal firearms licensee from Texas.
There were over 335 guns associated with this federal indictment, and it is unclear whether Laguna Pueblo, the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office, former BCSO Sheriff Manny Gonzales, and the former BCSO undersheriff/police chief of Laguna Pueblo have any of those guns in their possession.
This indictment was prepared by a federal grand jury on July 27, and was made public on Thursday.
Just to reiterate, the federal indictment contains information regarding two former New Mexico law enforcement officers, yet it's important to note that as of now, they haven't faced charges in connection with this matter.