published Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Ex-deputy expected to plead guilty to weapons smuggling

The Marines told Matthew Pickett that it was wrong to smuggle machine guns and hand grenades from Iraq back home to Tennessee.

After he returned to Bradley County, federal agents explained laws regarding explosives and firearms to him during police training at Cleveland State Community College.

But he had brought two fully-automatic AK-47 assault rifles and an undisclosed number of grenades home from Iraq in 2005. After he was hired by the Bradley County sheriff’s office on Aug. 16, 2007, he sold one of the rifles and stored the other in his patrol car, records show.

“This individual sat through that class,” said Darryl Hill, resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives office in Chattanooga. “Federal explosives and firearms laws were explained to him.”

This month, Pickett was charged with a single count of smuggling, a federal crime. He has filed paperwork stating that he plans to plead guilty on Sept. 9. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Pickett is not in police custody and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Documents show the former Marine hid the weapons in a vehicle fuel tank before leaving Iraq in 2005. When the vehicle was brought to Camp Pendleton, Calif., Pickett removed them and brought them home to Bradley.

He joined the county sheriff’s department two years later and, in the summer of 2009, sold one of the rifles to someone in Bradley County, records show.

During an investigation by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Pickett “confessed to stealing and smuggling the weapons,” according to documents.

As a result of the federal investigation, Bradley County Sheriff Tim Gobble fired Pickett, records show. Also based on the federal investigation, the sheriff accused Pickett of using anabolic steroids, holding illegal narcotics evidence in his patrol car for four months, falsifying official documents and keeping three seized driver’s licenses at his home.

Pickett did not face any criminal charges for these actions.

Gregg L. Sullivan, acting U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, declined to comment on the case Wednesday.

Pickett’s attorney, Mary Ellen Coleman also declined to comment.

It is hard to put a price on a fully-automatic AK-47 in the Chattanooga area, but such weapons can fetch “thousands of dollars” in larger cities where there is higher demand, Hill said.

Investigators recovered both AK-47s but court documents did not mention what happened to the grenades.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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rolando said...

"This individual" was plain and simple stupid. It is absolutely legal to own fully-automatic long as you pay the government $200 each for your right to own them by obtaining a permit. [The BATF, as always, doesn't care so long as it gets its money.] Even then, re-conversion directions of semi-autos abounds on the Internet.

And now we have an undisclosed number of hand grenades floating around.

Wonderful place, Bradley...

Incidentally and not to condone the Dep-aty's stupidity, how does one "steal" an AK-47 in a war-zone? Those are NOT US-owned weapons -- they are "war souvenirs"...usually removed from a body.

August 26, 2010 at 10:14 a.m.
dave said...

Sounds like a lot of sour grapes to me...mostly on the part of the chief(Gobble) who seems to be looking to feather his bed at the expense of a returning soldier.(He is running for Office) I don't know how many weapons were smuggled home by vets in WW1 and 2 but their are a bunch... as well as a load of Colt 1911, 45caliber pistols that were sent home in parts. In every war this stuff happens. I was at a yard sale last week where they were offering a 155mm. round for $10. (Howitzer shell) I guess every Vet has something of this sort. As far as the AK47 goes you can buy a Chinese made SKS (the same thing) for a couple of hundred bucks and get the instructions off the internet for making it into a fully automatic weapon. So all this stuff is basically trumped up B.S. to smear the good name of a returning soldier for political gain.

August 26, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.
ctfpfan08 said...

Just because many vets have done it doesn't make it right. This guy just got caught.

"Supporting the troops" doesn't mean letting them commit crimes without punishment.

August 26, 2010 at 1:19 p.m.
frayne48 said...

The returning soldier soiled his good name by illegally bringing (smuggling)contraband home from a war zone. The AKs don't really bother me too much but hand grenades floating around, a whole other ball game. Excuse me, somebody just yelled, fire in the hole !

The guy should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

August 26, 2010 at 4:13 p.m.
hambone said...

The deputy was dumb but two of the posts here are down right crazy. I bet some think it's OK to carry a AK-47 in a bar as long as you don't drink. wink wink

August 26, 2010 at 9:58 p.m.
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