The man who sold the AR-15 used to gun down 32 people in Midland and Odessa, Texas last year has pleaded guilty to a gun crime, announced U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox.
Marcus Anthony Braziel, 45, of Lubbock, Texas, pleaded guilty to one count of dealing firearms without a license and one count of subscribing to a false tax return before U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix Wednesday afternoon.
“If you’re a firearms dealer – whether you’re selling out of a brick-and-mortar store, in your basement, or online – you must ensure that a background check is conducted on your purchasers,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. “As this case makes clear, dealing firearms without a license isn’t some obscure, technical violation. It is unlawful conduct that has real-world impact and the potential for devastating results. The Justice Department is committed to enforcing our nation’s long-held gun laws, designed to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands.”
“The thoroughness of this investigation shows the dedication of ATF and all of its law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Dallas Field Division Jeffrey C. Boshek II. “This plea shows that people engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling firearms must do so lawfully to prevent prohibited persons from acquiring them. ATF provides potential dealers a straightforward way of becoming licensed without extensive complications or burdens.”
According to plea papers, Mr. Braziel admitted he sold Midland Odessa shooter Seth Aaron Ator an AR-15-style rifle on October 8, 2016 – nearly three years before Mr. Ator used the gun to murder seven people and wound 25 more.
Mr. Ator, who had been adjudicated “mentally defective” and was therefore legally prohibited from possessing firearms, first attempted to purchase a gun from a sporting goods store, but was rejected after the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) flagged his mental status. He later circumvented the NICS system by purchasing a gun from Mr. Braziel, who elected not to run background checks on any of his buyers.
Background checks are not necessarily required for in-state, private transfers. However, Mr. Braziel admitted he was “engaged in the business of selling firearms” – repeatedly devoting time and attention to purchasing and reselling guns for pecuniary gain – and thus should have been licensed and conducting background checks.
In his plea papers, Mr. Braziel admitted he routinely bought firearm firing mechanisms (termed “lower receivers”), used milling equipment to build them into full-fledged guns, and then sold the completed weapons for roughly $100 - $200 profit. He said he typically listed his firearms for sale on Armslist.com and conducted the sales in the parking lot of a local sporting goods store or out of his garage.
In a four-year span, Mr. Braziel inadvertently sold firearms to four prohibited persons: a convicted felon, an man under felony indictment, an immigrant in the U.S. illegally, and Mr. Ator, a man who the courts deemed unfit to possess a firearm.
Agents traced the lower receiver of the gun Mr. Braziel sold to Mr. Ator to Mulehead Dans, a federally licensed firearm dealer in Lubbock. The owner of Mulehead Dans confirmed that Mr. Braziel often purchased lower receivers and firearms there.
In addition to concealing his unlicensed dealing, Mr. Braziel admitted he also concealed the income from his firearms sales from the IRS.
“The prosecution of individuals who intentionally conceal income and file false returns is a vital element of IRS Criminal Investigation’s enforcement strategy,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Tamera Cantu. “IRS-CI is pleased with the successful resolution of this investigation due to the cooperative efforts of our law enforcement partners. This case shows there is no tolerance for illegal actions such as those taken by Mr. Braziel.”
Mr. Braziel now faces up to faces up to five years in federal prison. His sentencing has been set for January 7, 2021, at 10:00 a.m.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, IRS-Criminal Investigations Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Lubbock Police Department conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Haag, NDTX’s West Texas Branch Chief, is prosecuting the case.