William Weiss, 37, was dressed in street clothes. A large man who was free on bail, he kept his chunky hands nervously clasped behind his back.
Jonnatan Weiss, 29, wore blue jail togs and ankle chains. Smaller and slighter, he was on familiar ground as a repeat felon.
Both are from Southern California. Both committed their crimes in Las Vegas. Both were pleading guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pro to conspiracy to receive, transport and deal in firearms—one count of a 19-count indictment in a long-running gunrunning scheme ferrying Las Vegas firearms to California and then to Mexico.
Schemes like this explain a lot as far as why strict gun control laws in one place are failing because of the lax laws in another.
Tyler Olson, a special ATF agent in Las Vegas, said in a sworn court filing that he first learned of the Weiss brothers last February, when an employee of the Citadel Gun and Safe store off the Las Vegas Strip telephoned the ATF about a suspicious purchase.
The employee said William Weiss was at the shop buying three firearms for $6,000 in cash, using $20 bills. Olson and other agents hurried to the store and spotted two men loading the guns into the rear of a blue Volvo hatchback with California license plates. The weapons were a .50-caliber Bushmaster rifle and two .22-caliber pistols.
The agents went to work. They found that William Weiss carried dual driver's licenses, in Nevada and California. He listed his address on Rustic Oak Court in North Las Vegas. When the owner of the Rustic Oak Court property told Olson he had never heard of Weiss, the agent was sure he was on to something.
Agents questioned employees and checked sales receipts at a number of local gun stores and discovered that William Weiss had purchased 19 firearms on 13 occasions since December 2008—including four pistols on the day he received his Nevada driver's license, Olson said.
The agent next checked a U.S. Customs database and found that William Weiss had crossed into Mexico the day after buying the Bushmaster and pistols—and that the Volvo had crossed the border 25 times in the past two months.
By June, Olson and fellow agents were tracking the Weiss brothers. Now William was driving a Jeep Liberty with Mexico plates. He purchased two more firearms—another Bushmaster and a 9 mm pistol from a North Las Vegas pawnshop. He also again falsified the ATF disclosure form by using the phony Rustic Oak Court address.
So they brought him in for questioning. At the local field office, William Weiss admitted he actually lived in California. And, Olson said, he confessed that the firearms were meant for his brother Jonnatan Weiss, who lived in California but often stayed with their mother in Tijuana, where the weapons were resold.
The Citadel Gun and Safe store off the Las Vegas Strip is a place that does it right. Suspicious activity is reported to the ATF. If only there were more of that, we'd be in better shape.
What's your opinion? Is it mainly straw purchases like this that account for the guns in criminal hands. Or does theft account for most of the problem?
Please leave a comment.