United States of America v. Larry A. Vickers By: Lee Williams

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Famed Delta Force veteran faces 25 years in a federal prison.

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(Photo illustration from licensed Shutterstock account).

By press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland. The judge overseeing the case has not yet scheduled a sentencing date.

Vickers’ influence on the firearms industry was massive — especially for all things tactical — because he had the right combination of training, real-world experience and business acumen. Vickers and other operators participated in Operation Acid Gambit — a hostage rescue operation to free American Kurt Muse, a CIA operative who was being held in a Panamanian prison. Today, actual hostage-rescue missions are rare, even for Tier One operators.

Vickers’ expertise was much sought after by small arms manufacturers. He developed improvements, innovations and accessories for Wilson Combat, Aimpoint, Glock and most notably, Heckler & Koch. He helped the German firm with their redesign of the M16, which led to the HK416 — the rifle of choice for special operations units around the world.

Vickers was also a firearms historian and scholar. His Vickers Guide series offered unique insight into the 1911, German small arms of World War II, the AR-15 and he wrote two volumes about the AK-47. He became a voice for AK proponents, and his advocacy led to new design features that improved the rifle’s ergonomics.  

Vickers was one of the country’s most successful firearms instructors. A series of television shows and YouTube videos helped reinforce this brand. Although some will say much of his training was pre-9/11, he was one of the first Delta Force retirees to train civilians and law enforcement. His classes almost always sold out.

Vickers high profile and service to this country did not go unnoticed by federal law enforcement, especially the ATF.

The defendants    

Federal agents first raided Vickers’ home in October 2021, while Vickers was battling cancer. They seized 245 NFA weapons from his personal collection, including museum pieces some described as “priceless.” Many of the rare guns baffled ATF investigators, who referred to them on forfeiture paperwork as “unknown machinegun,” which they then valued at $1,000.

At the time, multiple sources said Vickers let his Special Operation Tax (SOT) payment lapse, which prompted the raid. But the federal indictment unsealed last week draws this conclusion into question.

“That indictment alleges that beginning in June 2018 to March 2021, the defendants conspired to acquire machineguns and/or other restricted firearms, such as short-barreled rifles, by falsely representing that the firearms would be used for demonstrations to law enforcement agencies, including the Coats Police Department and the Ray Police Department.  

According to these court documents, the other defendants include Sean Reidpath Sullivan, who was the owner of Trident LLC, formerly Trident Rifles. Sullivan was also affiliated with B&T USA, which is located in Tampa, Florida. Both Trident and B&T were FFL SOTs, which allowed them to sell machineguns and other NFA items.

“Sullivan was also an Intelligence analyst with the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, while operating Trident,” the court documents state.

Co-defendant James Christopher Tafoya owned JCT Firearms and JCT Manufacturing in New Mexico, both of which were also SOTs.

Co-Defendant Matthew Jeremy Hall was the police chief of Coats, North Carolina, which has a population of around 2,200. Until he retired in 2020, Hall oversaw a department of seven fulltime officers, which did not have a SWAT capability.

“It’s annual operating budget was around $1.2 million, and any expenditures of more than $300 required permission of the town supervisor,” court documents state.

Co-defendant James Sawyer was the police chief of Ray, North Dakota. During his tenure, Ray had less than 1,000 residents and Sawyer was the town’s only sworn police officer.

Court documents point out that federal law generally prohibits the transfer and possession of machineguns manufactured after May 19, 1986, but there are exceptions. FFL SOTs may import “sample” guns for demonstrations to law enforcement agencies. ATF requires the police department seeking a demonstration to provide a “law letter” or “demo letter” in which the police official expresses their interest in a particular machinegun model. Then, the FFL SOT submits an ATF Form 6 along with the letter to the ATF to import the weapon.

The conspiracy

According to court documents, police chiefs Hall and Sawyer signed law letters, lots of law letters, in which they requested demonstrations of a wide variety of machineguns and NFA weapons.

From July 2012 to May 2020, Hall signed 53 law letters that requested demonstration of 92 firearms, court documents state. Twenty-nine of the firearms were imported by Sullivan.

From August 2015 to August 2020, Sawyer submitted 32 law letters, seeking demonstrations of 73 firearms.

“These letters were, in turn, provided either directly to defendant Sullivan or through defendant Vickers or Tafoya,” court documents state. “Sullivan submitted the law letters containing materially false facts to the ATF Imports Branch as attachments to ATF Forms 6.”

The indictment includes a series of texts that took place in August 2018 between Vickers, Sullivan and Sawyer.

According to court documents, the defendants obtained B&T submachine guns in 9mm and .40 caliber, Swiss STG 90s, CH-Haenel short-barreled rifles in 5.56 mm and .308, Heckler & Koch G28, an FN (Herstal) FN/FAL machinegun, and an FN (Herstal) MAG 58 — a belt-fed, 7.62mm machinegun known in the U.S. Military as the M240.

“On or about September 24, 2019, Vickers signed a letter on Vickers Tactical Inc. letterhead addressed to Trident Rifles in Odenton, Maryland, stating that the FN (Herstal) MAG 58 would be used in a demonstration to the Coats Police Department by Vickers Tactical,” court documents state. At the time, Coats PD had seven police officers and no SWAT capabilities.  

Other weapons included a French FAMAS, various sniper rifles, H&K Mp5SDs and fully automatic Glock 18s.

According to the “stipulation of facts” attached to Vickers’ plea agreement, he conspired with the co-defendants to defraud the ATF “by interfering with and obstructing the lawful government functions of the ATF to restrict the transfer, possession and/or importation of machineguns and other firearms,” in violation of NFA and the Gun Control Act.

“Defendant Vickers kept some of the machineguns and other restricted weapons that were transferred to him in his personal collection and transferred other machineguns and restricted weapons to other FFLs and third parties,” the court documents state.

Sanction violations

By July 2014, the Russian arms manufacturer “Kalashnikov Concern” had been sanctioned by the U.S. government. Their property was frozen, and Americans were prohibited from providing or receiving funds, goods or services with the foreign company.

“Nevertheless, beginning no later than July 2014 and continuing until at least March 2021, Vickers and others conspired, orchestrated, and carried out a plan to violate and evade the U.S sanctions against Kalashnikov Concern by: (a) acquiring firearms, firearm parts, blueprints, and technical plans from Kalashnikov Concern; (b) providing promotional videography and marketing services to Kalashnikov Concern; (c) receiving services including engineering and technical design services, videography and video editing services, and preferential access to Kalashnikov Concern firearms, facilities, technical processes, personnel and associates; and (d) receiving funding and reimbursements from and on behalf of Kalashnikov Concern. A key goal of this plan was to develop a U.S. business that would manufacture Kalashnikov-style firearms to be sold in the U.S. market and fill the gap left by the sanctions against Kalashnikov Concern,” court documents state.

The new firm was to be called “American Kalashnikov,” and Vickers was to serve as the Director of Firearms Testing and Evaluation, as well as the company spokesman.

From November 2015 to July 2016, Kalashnikov Concern paid Vickers consulting fees totaling more than $46,000.

Vickers’ case was investigated by the ATF, FBI, IRS Criminal Investigations and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

In his press release, Erek L. Barron, United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, singled out two trial attorneys from the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Criminal Division, specifically for “their work on the Vickers guilty plea.”

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