Gun Dealer Arrested for Sales to Vegas Shooter : A Well Thought Out Scream by James Riordan
When you read the headline to this blog, I’m sure many of you thought, “Well, it’s about time.” Not yet and it’s more about ammunition than guns. The truth is that the guns laws are so weak that authorities had to do quite a stretch to charge Douglas Haig, 55, who is a gun dealer from Mesa, Arizona. Haig became the first person arrested and charged in connection with the Oct. 1 massacre, which ended when the perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, killed himself. Haig has acknowledged selling hundreds of rounds of tracer bullets to the gunman responsible for killing 58 people in Las Vegas but actually charged on Friday with conspiracy to make and sell armor-piercing ammunition without a license.
The criminal complaint alleges two unfired .308-caliber (7.62mm) rounds that were found in gunman Stephen Paddock’s hotel room had Haig’s fingerprints on them as well as tool marks from his workshop. The bullets in the cartridges were armor-piercing, with an incendiary capsule in the nose, the complaint says. On October 19, the FBI searched Haig’s Mesa home and seized ammunition that agency says is armor-piercing, the complaint said. Haig did not have a license to manufacture armor-piercing ammunition, documents said.
Paddock strafed a crowd of outdoor concert-goers with rapid-fire gunshots from his high-rise suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel before police stormed his room to find the 64-year-old retiree dead. No motive for the massacre has ever been established. He killed 58 people and shot and injured 422 others. In addition more 850 others suffered other injuries in the attack.
Haig told a news conference at the office of his attorney on Friday that none of the surplus military ammunition he sold Paddock in September was ever fired during the killing spree, which ranks as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Haig said he had no inkling of any criminal intent by Paddock. The ammunition dealer said Paddock told him, when asked, that he planned to use the tracer bullets to “put on a light show either with, or for, his friends” in the desert.
In a Friday morning news conference before his arrest, Haig, responding to the documents’ release, said he sold tracer ammunition to Paddock at his home in September after they met at a gun show. Tracer ammunition has a pyrotechnic charge that, when fired, leaves an illuminated trace that can help a shooter have a more precise idea of where the bullet is going. Haig said he was certain
the gunman never used any of the 720 rounds of magnesium-packed tracer bullets Paddock had purchased from him. “You would have seen red streaks coming from the window. And there weren’t red steaks coming from the window,” he said.
Haig did not describe the ammunition as armor-piercing. Victor, at the same news conference at his Phoenix-area office, said the tracer ammunition that Haig sold Paddock “was not modified in any way … from manufacturer’s specs.”
But in Friday’s criminal complaint, investigators say Haig and an associate also claimed they sold to Paddock other ammunition — four or five 10-round packages of .308-caliber incendiary ammunition — at a Las Vegas gun show in August.
It’s not clear from the complaint whether the two armor-piercing rounds with the incendiary capsule are from the packages Haig allegedly told investigators he sold Paddock at the gun show. The complaint also does not say whether Paddock fired any of the ammunition that he bought from Haig.
Two law enforcement sources told CNN in October that Paddock, during the massacre, fired incendiary bullets at a 43,000-barrel fuel tank on the grounds of nearby McCarran International Airport in what investigators believe was a failed attempt to cause an explosion. Haig did not mention the incendiary rounds — which are meant to ignite what they hit — in Friday’s news conference. Victor, his attorney, declined to comment about CNN’s questions about the incendiary rounds.
His lawyer, Marc Victor, suggested the casualty toll would have been lower had the tracer rounds been used, because victims would have seen the trajectory of gunfire in the dark and been able to take cover more easily. “It’s probably a bad thing that the ammunition Doug sold was not used,” Victor said.
The maximum penalty for manufacturing illegal ammunition is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Haig’s attorney, Marc J. Victor, said he had no comment when reporters caught up with him outside court, and that he couldn’t say anything because of the ongoing case. “My first obligation and only obligation is to my client,”
The law enforcement sources also said tracer rounds were found in Paddock’s hotel room. But there was no evidence the tracer rounds were used during the attack, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about such details. Authorities have repeatedly said Paddock was the only shooter. Friday’s charges do not allege that Haig knew of Paddock’s intentions to kill in Las Vegas.
Haig, an aerospace engineer and part-time ammunition reseller, said at Friday’s news conference that he never saw anything suspicious in Paddock’s demeanor when he visited Haig’s home to make the purchase. He was very well dressed, very well groomed, very polite, very respectful – told me what he wanted, I gathered it up, put it in a box, told him what he owed me. He paid me, put it in his car and drove away,” Haig recounted. Victor called it “a routine transaction to purchase a routine type of ammunition that is available in many different retail outlets throughout the sate of Arizona.” Victor said the two men had no further contact.
“At no time did I see anything suspicious or odd or any kind of a tell, anything that would set off an alarm,” Haig said. He also said that he received death threats after his name was revealed this week. He stressed that his sale made “no contribution” to the killings since Paddock didn’t appear to have fired tracer rounds. “I hope today ends (the death threats) when people realize that I wasn’t in collusion with Paddock — that I was not in any way, shape or form associated with the horrible crime that he committed,” Haig said.
Victor said Haig got into the ammunition re-sale business in 1991 as a hobby, and has always been a “law-abiding citizen.” Haig was charged with a single count of conspiracy to manufacture and sell armor-piercing ammunition, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the statement.
The criminal complaint does not name Haig’s associate. Filed in a U.S. District court in Phoenix, the complaint said Haig previously had run an internet business selling armor-piercing bullets – including high-explosive and incendiary rounds – throughout the United States. It said some merchandise sold through that business consisted of cartridges that had been “reloaded,” or assembled from component parts, though Haig lacked a license to make such ammunition for sale.
According to the complaint, Haig insisted to investigators that while he reloads ammunition cartridges for himself, he never offered them to paying customers and that none reloaded by him would turn up at the crime scene in Las Vegas.
However, prosecutors said Haig’s fingerprints were found on some of the unfired rounds in Paddock’s hotel suite and that armor-piercing cartridges recovered there bore tool marks matching the reloading equipment in Haig’s workshop.
Haig made an initial court appearance before a federal magistrate in Phoenix and was freed on his own recognizance under conditional release pending a Feb. 15 status conference set for the case, prosecutors said.
Haig was released on his own recognizance with specific conditions not spelled out in court proceedings. He is due in court again February 15 for a preliminary hearinghe complaint
Up until Haig’s name emerged, the only other person of interest named in the Vegas shooting was Paddock’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley. She last issued a public comment three days after the shooting and has kept a low profile since then. She said she had been “devastated” by Paddock’s crime, and she has cooperated with authorities during the investigation. Authorities have said that Paddock, who killed himself with a shot through the mouth, was the only gunman to fire on the crowd.
Haig said he didn’t even know the shooting had occurred until he was called by federal authorities 11 hours after the massacre. Haig said that he starts his days early at 6 a.m. and that, when told what happened, he felt “revulsion.”
But he also thought that, as the months passed, his sale of ammunition to Paddock would be a footnote that would eventually fade away. When his name came out, the spotlight burned bright on a man who, according to his LinkedIn page, had developed ammunition and weapons for defense contractors. He is currently listed as a senior engineer at Honeywell Aerospace.
Then on Tuesday, his name was published, then broadcast nationwide. Haig had been named a “person of interest” in search warrants unsealed Tuesday. But his name mistakenly had not been redacted from one document, and it was published and then broadcast. For the rest of the week, he said, he endured death threats and was hounded at his home for his connection to Paddock. Recounting events from Friday, Haig said the last doorbell ring at his house came at 2 a.m. Up until that point, it had been a steady stream of rings and knocks at his home. One woman shouted through his door that he should die.
The 55-year-old Arizona man said he learned about his name being made public while he was at work Tuesday. “My cellphone started to explode
“It’s not been a lot of fun, quite frankly,” he said.
He did an interview with “CBS This Morning” the day after his name was made public, saying he sold Paddock the tracer ammunition. “He said he was going to go put on a light show,” Haig said in the interview. ” And I can’t remember whether he said for or with his friends, but that’s what he did say.” His attorney said Haig hoped that holding a news conference would help him restore his reputation.
Haig said after the 2 a.m. doorbell ring Friday, he was able to get some sleep and arrived at his attorney’s office around 8:30 a.m. He said, however, he had to first escape his house. But this took planning. Haig said he waited for a garbage truck to pull up and used it as cover to leave.
Haig drove by himself to the law firm in an office park in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb. He said he saw the television crews setting up tripods outside the law office and suddenly realized he was unsure what to expect.
“Yeah, I was nervous,” he said.
When he stepped out in front of the lectern, his attorney, Marc Victor, introduced him. Victor, a high-profile attorney in Arizona who served as a legal analyst for media during the Jodi Arias murder trial, helped prepare Haig.
Haig was direct with his answers — though he had to be reminded at several points during the 20-minute news conference to lean into the microphones clustered atop the lectern.
He said he spoke with law enforcement on four separate occasions for at least six — and maybe eight — hours.
But the charging documents show authorities served a search warrant on Haig’s residence Oct. 19 and seized over 100 items, including armor-piercing bullets. Haig didn’t mention that at the news conference.
Haig said he met Paddock at a gun show in Phoenix and later sold Paddock the ammunition at his house. Nothing aroused suspicion, he said. Haig said he usually ships ammunition or sells it at the gun show, but occasionally lets people come by his house to make a purchase.
“I have to trust them,” he said.
Haig said he isn’t selling ammunition anymore, and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get back into it again. “I don’t know,” he said. “I truly don’t know.”
When the search warrant documents were released this week, Clark County District Court Judge Elissa Cadish allowed a small portion of those records to be redacted because “there is an ongoing investigation regarding charges against another individual, arising out of information obtained in connection with the … shooting, but not directly related to the shooting.”
In response to a question from CNN in January, the Clark County sheriff, Joe Lombardo, said federal authorities were investigating a person in the case. That person could face federal charges not directly related to the shooting within the next 60 days, the sheriff said January 19.
Lombardo didn’t disclose the person’s name, saying those details were “under federal grand jury disclosure” rules.
On Friday morning, before his arrest, Haig answered a reporter’s question about whether he believed he was that person. “No. I don’t think it’s me at all,” Haig said.