A former federal agent in Nogales pleaded guilty Tuesday to selling firearms without a license, including two rifles sold to suspected drug traffickers.
Joseph Gill, a 42-year-old former supervisory special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, admitted in U.S. District Court in Tucson to selling firearms without a license to men he had reason to believe would use them unlawfully.
The illegal sales came to light in 2016 during an investigation by the DEA and other agencies of a suspected drug-trafficking organization that was seeking sellers of firearms in Southern Arizona with the goal of smuggling the firearms into Mexico.
Investigators identified Gill as the man who sold a Colt model M4LE .556-caliber semi-automatic rifle to a suspected drug trafficker in July 2016, according to a sworn affidavit filed by an Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent, who cited intercepted communications among the suspected drug traffickers.
The rifle was smuggled into Mexico and Gill made arrangements to sell the suspected traffickers a second rifle at a meeting at an Italian restaurant on West Wetmore Road, the agent wrote. The second rifle, which was “substantially identical” to the first, was seized from a suspected member of the drug-trafficking organization at a Nogales port of entry on its way into Mexico aboard a shuttle.
Gill resigned from the DEA on June 30, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada, which is handling the prosecution. Federal prosecutors from Arizona were recused.
Gill faces up to two years in prison, but could receive probation, according to a plea agreement discussed at the hearing Tuesday.
ATF agents searched Gill’s house on Tucson’s northwest side and recovered 35 firearms and equipment, including silencers. They also searched the email account Gill used to communicate with gun buyers and an email account used by one of the suspected drug traffickers.
At Gill’s house, agents found a “large binder” containing records of buying and selling firearms, the ATF agent wrote. The binder, along with records obtained by subpoena, showed sales by Gill of “well into the hundreds” of firearms and related items since 1998. The records showed Gill typically bought firearms from online licensed sellers and then sold them privately.
The ATF found Gill had made about 645 transactions on a gun-selling website, according to the news release. About 100 of those transactions involved selling firearms throughout the United States, according to the ATF agent. With the Colt rifles Gill sold to suspected traffickers, he bought each rifle for about $630 and sold them for about $1,000 each.
Gill had a curios-and-relics license from November 2012 to October 2016, when he requested his account be deactivated. That license is valid for selling guns that are more than 50 years old or have a novelty value. The license “does not allow the licensee to engage in the business of dealing firearms,” the ATF agent wrote.
Gill applied for a license to sell firearms in 2012, but withdrew his application when the DEA denied his request to deal in firearms, the agent wrote.
At the hearing, defense lawyer Jason Lamm said his client had worked out a side agreement with the prosecution in which the firearms seized at Gill’s house would be sold and the proceeds turned over to Gill. Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Smith said that was accurate and that Gill was prohibited from possessing firearms.
Gill is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 26.