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Former Air Force firearms trainer convicted

Timothy John Arnold will no longer be allowed to own any of the guns that once earned him the respect of his colleagues and students as a firearms instructor.

Arnold was convicted Tuesday in U.S. District Court of using a government credit card to buy gun parts to make weapons he sold or traded illegally in what prosecutors characterized as a black market operation while he was a weapons instructor with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Barring a reversal of his conviction should he appeal, Arnold will not be allowed to have any firearms as a convicted felon.

Arnold, 43, stood like a statue before a jury of nine men and three women as the guilty verdict was read at about 3 p.m. Tuesday. The verdict followed about three hours of deliberations.

Two rows behind Arnold, his wife, the mother of their young daughter, wiped tears from her eyes as each juror confirmed, one-by-one, his or her agreement in the verdict.

Arnold, who has been employed recently by gun manufacturer Sig Sauer in New Hampshire, was convicted of using an Air Force credit card between 2006 and 2011 to buy gun parts valued at more than $300,000 and equipment not authorized for military use. He used the parts to make guns to sell to friends, to keep for himself or to trade for other weapons with then-colleagues at FLETC.

His defense attorney, Dan Conaway, said in closing arguments that Arnold's job required him to buy civilian equipment for his classes.

The way in which Arnold taught those classes, witnesses said during the week-long trial, made him one of the best teachers in the Air Force program at FLETC.

Conaway contended Arnold was an American hero who saved lives with his instruction of Air Force investigators sent to gather intelligence in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Tim Arnold's background is beyond reproach," Conaway said emphatically.

If Arnold's purchases were against the policies and rules of his agency, Conaway posed to juror, then why were they not questioned during what he characterized as a rigorous approval process? "If he was spending too much money, they would've seen it," Conaway said.

Additionally, Conaway said, Arnold was pressured at the end of each fiscal year to spend any surplus money in his annual budget of about $120,000.

But it was U.S. Attorney Frederick Kramer's case that convinced jurors.

Kramer said just because Arnold's purchases were not watched closely, he should not be excused from spending government money for personal profit.

In response to Conaway's assertion that Arnold was a hobbyist who often helped friends modify guns, Kramer said Arnold took orders like a businessman.

"A businessman buys an inventory in bulk," waits for an order, "then he builds what his customer wants," Kramer said.

With some of Arnold's bulk purchases amounting to as much as $96,000, Kramer said Arnold ran an operation that stretched as far as Illinois, where he sold six guns he made to a sheriff's office. Of the 38 gun barrels entered into evidence, Kramer said 34 were 16 inches long and intended for civilian use, rather than the 14.5-inch barrel on military weapons.

Arnold also frequently bought items he and his friends thought were "cool" with the credit card, such as tomahawks, throwing stars and stenciled golf balls, prosecutors alleged.

Other items Arnold bought included an Army Ranger patch and a SCUBA patch he frequently wore on his uniform, Kramer said. He also said Arnold told people he was a Marine sniper, after taking a class taught by one.

Kramer argued those instances speak to Arnold's character. "He is a poser. He's a fraud," Kramer told the jury. "This is a man with no honor in him."

Arnold was led from the courtroom by U.S. Marshals after the verdict. Moments later, a marshal brought Arnold's jacket, belt and billfold to his wife. She sat down, laid her head on the back of the bench in front of her and wept.

Arnold was convicted of theft of government property by conversion, manufacturing and dealing in firearms without a license, dealing firearms across state lines without a license and transporting illegally acquired firearms to a state in which he did not reside.

Arnold could be sentenced to a maximum of 25 years in prison and fined up to $750,000. No sentencing date has been set. He has 14 days to file any post-trial motions.

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center is part of the Department of Homeland Security. It trains law enforcement officers for 91 federal agencies. Among them are Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Park Police and U.S. Marshals Service.

 mhall@thebrunswicknews.com

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