A U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent in California is accused of illegally selling guns since at least 2014, according to recently unsealed federal court records.
Prosecutors say the agent is Wei Xu, 56, of Santa Fe Springs, who’s a CBP officer at the Los Angeles and Long Beach Seaport. The complaint against him accuses him of buying guns—including ones that only law enforcement agents can legally buy under California law—and then re-selling them in private deals to buyers he found on a website called Calguns. Prosecutors say that Xu sold four guns to an undercover agent, conducting the deals in a parking lot, and offered the agent a long list of additional guns he had for sale. He’s accused of selling three of the guns illegally straight from the trunk of his car, without involving a federally licensed firearms dealer.
According to a complaint and affidavit filed under seal in federal court in California, and unsealed today, prosecutors are accusing Xu of dealing firearms without a license and illegally transferring an unregistered short-barrel rifle. Xu’s house was searched yesterday by agents with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and he was taken into custody, (though authorities declined to say at the time why the raid was executed and didn’t reveal that anyone had been arrested).
Xu was scheduled to appear in court for an initial appearance this afternoon. Jail records show he’s currently in federal custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in downtown Los Angeles. A news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California says that agents seized 300 guns from Xu’s house, including assault rifles, short-barreled rifles and what they say “appear to be” fully automatic machine guns.
The allegations against Xu are a window into a strange corner of gun laws concerning the sale and transfer of what are called “off-roster” handguns. Under California law, only handguns that are certified as “safe” by the state can be sold to civilians; there’s a roster of the guns that are available for purchase by the public. Guns that aren’t on the list—referred to as “off-roster” or “off-list” guns—can be purchased by certain exempt people, including law enforcement officers. (Gun enthusiasts have complained that there aren’t as many guns on the safe list as there used to be.)
There are, however, a lot more “exempt” people than there used to be too: in 2017, then-Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law expanding the number of law enforcement officers who could legally buy off-roster guns. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, in February of that year, Pasadena police Lt. Vasken Gourdikian was arrested for selling off-roster guns; some 57 guns were seized from his home during the arrest. (In 2018, Gourdikian agreed to plead guilty to selling more than 100 guns illegally and resigned from the police force. He’s set to be sentenced this month, according to court records, and faces a recommended sentence of at least 30 months in prison.)
The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had, by that point, begun to suspect that there was a larger problem. The head of the California ATF field office sent a letter weeks later to police agencies across the state, the Tribune reported, warning that there was an “emerging problem” of police officers who might be illegally selling firearms. In March of 2018, two Los Angeles-area police officers were indicted on charges that they’d bought and sold off-roster guns. Those cases are ongoing. One officer, Carlos Miguel Fernandez, is accused of re-selling the guns on Instagram, using an account called “the38superman.”
In their complaint against Xu, the Border Protection agent, federal prosecutors say that off-roster guns “garner higher-than-retail prices” in private sales “because of the restrictions placed on them.” In addition, they allege, “manufacturers frequently offer ‘off-roster’ handguns to qualified law enforcement personnel at a reduced price, which further increases the potential profit margin for law enforcement personnel who resell them.”
According to the complaint against him, Xu is a watch commander at Customs and Border Protection, and has worked for the agency since 2004. Prosecutors say that since 2014, he’s believed to have sold or “otherwise transferred” at least 70 guns. (The complaint speculates that Xu likely sold all of them, as opposed to trading them, but acknowledges it’s not possible to “definitively state” that fact.)
In seven cases, the complaint says, Xu sold guns within two weeks of purchasing them, which prosecutors allege is evidence that he was, essentially, running a business. Four of those seven guns were off-roster; Xu is alleged to have bought and then re-sold one firearm, a Beretta M9A1 pistol, on the same day. In all, prosecutors say they believe that Xu sold at least 14 off-roster guns, a number they allege will “likely” rise.
According to prosecutors, Xu is believed to have purchased at least two guns at a gun show in Arizona in 2010, providing a driver’s license that showed an Arizona address. But they say that he never disclosed to CBP in California that he had an apartment or any ties to Arizona, which he would’ve been required to do as part of a background check.
The complaint also alleges that Xu operated two accounts on the website Calguns, a (legal) forum for California gun owners that has a specific section for private sales, with the usernames “weixu” and “safari.” (Both accounts are still presently on the site.) The complaint alleges—a little eyebrow-raisingly—that the FBI “retrieved a two-page document from the trash” outside Xu’s house, one that listed his usernames and passwords for various websites, including Calguns.
The ATF undercover officer replied to a listing on Calguns that Xu allegedly posted, according to the complaint, offering a CZ-75 Compact Shadow Line for sale, a 9mm pistol that’s off-roster in California. According to the complaint, the undercover and Xu negotiated a price of $2,500 and met up in the parking lot of a licensed firearms dealer—likely a gun shop—whereupon Xu pulled the handgun, in a box, from the trunk of his car. They then went into the firearms dealer together and completed the paperwork necessary for a legal private sale. After the deal was completed, the complaint says, Xu sent a message from his second Calguns account, offering a list of other firearms for sale, including both pistols and rifles, among them an AR-15.
The issue there, the complaint alleges, is that Xu bought the CZ pistol already knowing he planned to sell it and having already listed it on Calguns. The paperwork he would have signed to buy the gun would have required him to affirm under oath that he was the “actual buyer” of the weapon.
In a second buy, according to the complaint, Xu sold the undercover agent a Sig Sauer 5.56 caliber rifle, pulling up in a black Maserati and telling the ATF agent he would need to “fix” the gun to legally use it in California. (The original 556 isn’t legal in California.) The complaint alleges that the undercover agent asked if he needed to do anything specific to make the gun legal, to which Xu responded, “I don’t care, if you want it, I give it to you.” When the agent asked if they needed to go inside a licensed firearms dealer again and complete the private sale paperwork, Xu allegedly responded, “No you don’t need to... It’s up to you.”
The complaint alleges that Xu sold two more guns to the undercover agent—one of them a PPS-43, a semi-automatic submachine gun—along with a kit that would allow the agent to convert it into a fully automatic weapon. The complaint alleges that the PPS-43 was “configured to be a short-barreled rifle”; it’s illegal to sell a rifle with a barrel under 16 inches if it’s not registered with the ATF. Xu allegedly told the agent that the gun is “not on the California roster.” The other gun Xu is alleged to have sold in the same transaction is an MSAR rifle; after handing it over and accepting $2,100 dollars, Xu is alleged to have said to the agent, “We are like drug dealers.”
If convicted, Xu would face a maximum of five years on the charge of unlicensed firearms dealing. Possessing an unlicensed firearm carries a maximum of ten years in prison. It’s unclear just how much profit that he is alleged to have made from the illegal sale of firearms. It’s impossible to say that no one saw this coming, though. In a glaring bit of foreshadowing, a poster on the Calguns site wondered in 2017, “Anyone get busted for reselling off roster guns yet?”
The poster noted—apparently correctly—“Lots of profit to be had there.”
Court records don’t indicate whether Xu currently has an attorney; when one is hired or assigned, we will contact them for comment.
Update, 8:20 p.m.:
According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, Xu wasn’t asked to enter a plea during his first court appearance this afternoon. He was ordered to be held without bond pending trial. His next court date is scheduled for late February.
Correction: An earlier version of the headline for this post referred to Xu as a “Border Patrol agent;” he is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent.