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Suspects get house arrest until illegal weapons trial

Authorities say Colorado resident Richard Paul was the primary seller of illegal machine guns and other weapons smuggled from the Middle East by a rogue Navy SEAL.

On Wednesday, a Las Vegas judge released Paul on his own recognizance after the defendant’s lawyer argued that keeping him in custody could be “life-threatening.”

“My client’s been labeled as a cooperator, and now they want to put him in jail, thank you very much,” Assistant Federal Public Defender William Carrico said.

A criminal complaint was filed Oct. 29 in Las Vegas against Nicholas Bickle, a Navy SEAL from San Diego; his longtime friend Paul; and Las Vegas resident Andrew Kaufman. The defendants were arrested Nov. 3 in the cities where they live.

Last week, prosecutors appealed a San Diego judge’s decision to release Bickle on bond. In the document, prosecutors contend all conspirators agreed to testify against Bickle. Prosecutors later withdrew their appeal to avoid delaying the case.

Bickle, 33, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Prosecutors argued that he should be detained while awaiting trial, but Leen opted to release him on a $150,000 bond.

Paul, 34, appeared before Leen on Wednesday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Drew Smith argued for detention, noting that Paul confessed after his arrest.

Leen conceded that Paul had confessed, then added, “And yes, Mr. Smith, you have turned him out to the world as a cooperator.”

The judge placed Bickle and Paul on home detention with electronic monitoring.

“These crimes are serious, and the conduct is abhorrent,” Leen said. However, the judge said, pretrial detention is not to be used as punishment.

U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley Jr. previously detained Kaufman, 36, pending a trial set for Jan. 24.

All three defendants originally faced a conspiracy charge. A federal grand jury this week indicted them on five additional charges: distribution of explosive materials, transportation of explosive materials, dealing firearms without a license, illegal possession of a machine gun and illegal transfer of a machine gun.

According to the indictment, the scheme was made possible by Bickle’s access to weapons. Bickle returned from a deployment to Iraq in March 2009.

“During his time in Iraq, he served as one of the men in charge of weapons for his platoon, and he also worked at an armory,” according to the document. “Those positions gave him access to a variety of weapons and explosives, and as a result he was able to arrange the smuggling of large numbers of firearms, including machine guns, as well as other items, like explosives, into the United States.”

Smith said Bickle smuggled more than 100 firearms into the United States, and many have not been recovered.

The prosecutor said a fourth participant in the conspiracy has not been charged.

“We don’t know who else is involved,” Smith said.

Carrico said Paul and Bickle have known each other since high school in Norway, Mich.

“They’re boyhood chums,” the defense attorney said.

Carrico said Bickle frequently stored items at Paul’s house in Durango, Colo. The attorney said Paul is married and has two young children.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.

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