(Excerpted from Ben Swann) A review of the investigation itself reads like a comedy of errors, which makes Arnold’s conviction all the more surprising. Lead investigator Special Agent Wendell Palmer directly violated countless Air Force Policy Directives, including the interrogation of a subordinate as part of a criminal investigation, which is a conflict of interests; failing to read Arnold his rights during any of the interrogation sessions; ghostwriting statements from Arnold and all other witnesses; and failure to provide receipts for property, firearms, and records seized from Arnold, other witnesses, and even the Sig Sauer Academy in New Hampshire where Arnold worked as an adjunct instructor while on administrative leave.
WASHINGTON, October 6, 2014–Decorated Air Force veteran and firearms expert Timothy Arnold was convicted in the United States District Court of Southern Georgia on January 21 of manufacturing and dealing in firearms without a license, transporting illegally-acquired firearms to a state in which he did not reside, dealing firearms across state lines without a license, and theft of government property by conversion.
The prosecution, led by Assistant United States Attorney Fred Kramer, claimed Arnold was running a “black market operation” while he was a well-known firearms instructor with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia. FLETC is part of the Department of Homeland Security and trains law enforcement officers for 91 federal agencies, including the U.S. Park Police and U.S. Marshals Service.
Arnold was known for having high expectations for his FLETC students and high standards for his training curriculum. Many witnesses in his trial testified that his training certainly saved lives during operations overseas. They said he was one of the best firearms instructors in the Air Force. Arnold prided himself on creating realistic scenes using costumes and props to simulate real-life scenarios that protective services agents might face in the field. His job required him to buy civilian equipment for those classes—and his superiors pressured him at the end of every fiscal year to spend all remaining funds of his operating budget, that sometimes totaled $120,000. This is common practice in federal agencies whose directors fear a surplus will cut their Congressional funding for future years.
Firearms were not just Arnold’s profession, they were also his lifelong hobby. His expertise garnered countless unsolicited requests from co-workers, members of law enforcement, friends, and family to assemble guns for them. Most of the time, he would advise them as to what parts they should order and then Arnold would assemble them into a working firearm—as a favor or for a trade. “The investigators were not able to find a trail of money from me profiting from my supposed firearms business,” Tim Arnold says, “Because I never made any money off of it. I never claimed to be a business or advertise. I did it for fun and as a favor to people in my life.”
However, a jury in a civilian court found Arnold guilty of illegally manufacturing and dealing firearms. Of note, the legal definition of manufacturing implies objects are created from raw material. What Arnold did, and what many other gun enthusiasts in this country do, is actually firearms assembly, a legal endeavor.
A few months before the AFOSI investigation into Arnold’s activities began, he was busy working on customizing an AR-15 platform rifle to replace the outdated MP-5 sub-machine guns that protective service officers currently use in the field. “Obtaining new parts to service those military weapons is nearly impossible,” Arnold says, “And a weapon with more maneuverability in tight quarters would reduce training time, as well as cost of replacement parts, saving the Air Force money.” Arnold’s prototype made its way to a training in New Jersey where it was mistaken for an illegal weapon.
A review of the investigation itself reads like a comedy of errors, which makes Arnold’s conviction all the more surprising. Lead investigator Special Agent Wendell Palmer directly violated countless Air Force Policy Directives, including the interrogation of a subordinate as part of a criminal investigation, which is a conflict of interests; failing to read Arnold his rights during any of the interrogation sessions; ghostwriting statements from Arnold and all other witnesses; and failure to provide receipts for property, firearms, and records seized from Arnold, other witnesses, and even the Sig Sauer Academy in New Hampshire where Arnold worked as an adjunct instructor while on administrative leave.
Sig Sauer Academy Executive Director Adam Painchaud, also an AFOSI Special Agent, initiated a complaint against Palmer to the Air Force Office of Inspector General. Six witnesses signed separate affidavits detailing accounts of Palmer’s unethical conduct, including the Witness Statements riddled with errors, omissions, and misrepresentations that Palmer wrote himself. Several active OSI Agents offered to provide verbal testimony, afraid of the retaliation that a paper trail might bring.
During the trial, Painchaud was slated to be the star witness for the defense. “I had the ability based on my firsthand, expert knowledge of the matters involved to dispute the charges against Arnold,” says Painchaud. Instead, he was prevented from testifying and Judge Lisa Godbey Wood threatened to charge him with contempt of court due to allegations from the prosecution that he inappropriately questioned another witness in the hallway outside the courtroom. “My testimony would have been instrumental,” Painchaud says, “The jury never got to hear it because I never got to testify. This is not how our system is supposed to work.” Painchaud was later cleared of the contempt allegations, as well as conduct unbecoming of an agent, after a separate investigation by AFOSI revealed his innocence.
Despite a Congressional inquiry into the handling of the investigation that resulted in Arnold’s conviction, his sentencing is set for this Thursday, October 9. Arnold faces up to 25 years in prison and a $300,000 fine. (Read More From Ben Swann)