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Appeals court upholds conviction in straw-man purchases of AK-47s

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the 2011 conviction of a man who bought dozens of AK-47s from an Arizona gun shop over a two-week period and delivered them to another man.

Timothy Russell Johnson was convicted on two counts of falsely claiming on a federal form to be the actual buyer of the 59 assault rifles. Instead, he quickly turned the guns over to Miguel Pedroza, who paid him $4,500 on two occasions.

Johnson was sentenced to 30 months in prison by a federal judge in Arizona for making false statements in the scheme.

On appeal, he challenged the trial court’s instructions to the jury on the elements of the law and on Pedroza’s reliability as a witness.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals flatly rejected his claims and upheld his convictions.

Johnson’s attorney could not say Tuesday how they would proceed in the case. “We’ll consider our options at this point,” said Thomas M. Hoidal.

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Van Buskirk, could not be reached Tuesday and a spokesman for the office declined comment on the ruling.

The case began on Sept. 28, 2006, when Johnson, a Minneapolis native, went to Shooters Supply Company looking to buy 25 Polish AK-47s. In the paperwork required for the purchase, he stated that he was the “actual buyer of the firearms” and was not buying them on behalf of another person.

But after leaving the store with the guns, Johnson “promptly delivered them to Pedroza, who gave him $4,500 as a partial payment,” according to the court. Johnson did not have a license to deal in firearms, the court said.

Johnson went back to Shooters Supply on Oct. 6, 2006, to buy 34 more AK-47s – 14 Polish and 20 Yugoslavian guns – again claiming to be the actual buyer. But only some of the guns were available immediately.

He went to a gun show in Mesa the next day where he walked out “pushing a cart stacked with seven cardboard boxes containing two rifles each,” the court said. He drove directly to a meeting with Pedroza where he handed over the guns and got another $4,500.

Pedroza was arrested a short time later and agreed to cooperate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in their investigation.

After his arrest, Johnson told investigators that he “got hooked up with” Pedroza and had sold weapons to him “several times.” But he said he never opened the gun-show boxes before delivering them to Pedroza.

Both men were ultimately indicted, Johnson for two counts of making false statements and Pedroza for two counts of aiding and abetting in the false statements.

Johnson was convicted last June and sentenced to 30 months on each count, to be served concurrently, with three years of supervision after release.

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