Dandelu Santiago—a father and husband who left school in the ninth grade—felt comfortable on three days in March, April and June of 2017 that he could illegally sell unregistered firearms in the rear parking lot of a Black Angus Restaurant near Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park.
After all, Santiago had known the middleman in the deals for several years and considered him a bonafide member of the underworld with a 20-year criminal record that included theft, grand theft, battery, battery of a spouse, street racing, possession of drug paraphernalia, identity theft, receiving stolen property, writing bad checks and narcotics possession.
But Santiago didn’t know his pal had made a secret pact with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF): Become a confidential government informant in exchange for cash payments as well as the dismissal of his own pending firearm-related charges in Los Angeles County.
On March 28, 2017, the informant introduced “a homie” supposedly interested in buying guns from Santiago, who was born in 1985 and was once homeless for an extended period of time.
Not realizing that friend actually worked as an undercover special agent with the ATF, he ended up selling two AR-15 pistols and four short-barreled AR-15 rifles before his arrest.
Santiago later explained he’d sold the weapons only to gain money to prevent his family from living on the streets.
He also asked that his punishment be probation for one year so that he could continue to work to feed his wife and kids.
The U.S. Probation Office recommended a below guidelines punishment of 24 months in prison mainly because of his poor economic situation.
Federal prosecutor fought that variance and requested a low-end term of 37 months according to the guidelines.
But, inside Orange County’s Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse, U.S. District Court Judge David O. Carter decided the most appropriate sentence is 18 months in prison.
Santiago has until noon on June 3 to self-surrender to U.S. Marshals.
CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; earned six dozen other reporting awards; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; featured in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.