Gardena police officers charged with Illegal gun sales on Instagram

Two veteran Gardena Police Department officers are facing federal charges for allegedly running a scheme in which they bought "off-roster" firearms not available to the public and then resold the weapons, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced on Monday.

Carlos Miguel Fernandez, 42, of Norwalk, and Edward Yasushiro Arao, 47, of Eastvale were instructed to appear April 3 for arraignment in downtown Los Angeles on a five-count indictment alleging they conspired to sell about 100 weapons -- mostly Colt .38-caliber pistols -- without a license.

Gardena police Chief Edward Medrano said the officers were immediately placed on administrative leave, and the department has cooperated fully during the investigation.

"We are deeply concerned about the case," Medrano said in a statement. "This type of conduct is inconsistent with our organizational values and the ethics of our profession and will not be tolerated by the Gardena Police Department."

Prosecutors allege Fernandez advertised guns offered by himself, Arao and others on his Instagram account. Arao, who was the CEO of Ronin Tactical Group, a federal firearms licensee, similarly advertised guns on his company's account, the indictment alleges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also contends that both 17-year veterans of the Gardena police force marketed firearms at gun shows although neither defendant was licensed to engage in the business of firearms dealing at the time of the offenses alleged in the indictment.

"Off-roster" handguns are not available to the general public, but can be legally purchased by law enforcement officers.

Through messages on Instagram and other means, Fernandez and Arao allegedly negotiated the prices and terms of the sales, and accepted payment for the guns once they were delivered, according to the indictment.

The indictment was unsealed Friday after two other defendants in the case pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges that they engaged in a "straw purchase" transaction involving a gun sold through Fernandez.

The indictment alleges that Oscar Morales Camacho Sr., 63, of Salinas, falsely certified that he was purchasing a firearm for himself in a 2017 private-party transfer, when he in fact was buying the gun for his son, Oscar Maravilla Camacho Jr., 34, also of Salinas.

Camacho Jr. has a prior criminal conviction that prohibits him from possessing firearms. The indictment alleges that Fernandez and both Camachos "well knew (that) defendant Camacho Sr. was not the actual buyer of the firearm."

The indictment also alleges a second "straw purchaser" transaction in which a South Los Angeles woman purchased two firearms for her boyfriend. As in the other straw purchase alleged in the indictment, Bianca Elizabeth Ibarria, 23, and Adalberto deJesus Vasquez Pelayo Jr., 24, also of South Los Angeles, are charged with making a false statement in a federal firearm licensee's records during purchase of a firearm.

Ibarria and Pelayo also have been directed to appear for arraignment on April 3.

Each count in the indictment carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison. If convicted of all charges, Fernandez would face up to 15 years and Arao could be sentenced to as much as 10 years behind bars, prosecutors said.