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Prosecutors: Militia member had gun-making ‘factory’ in his house

Judge's gavel. (Staff Sgt. Nicholas Rau/U.S. Air Force)

A man who was kicked out of an armed border group in Southern Arizona last year was sentenced Tuesday to more than six years in federal prison on firearms charges.

After a months-long investigation by FBI agents and the discovery of a “firearms and ammunition factory” in his San Diego home, Joshua Pratchard was sentenced to 75 months in federal prison at a hearing Tuesday in Tucson’s federal court.

The investigation began when Pratchard drove his pickup truck from San Diego to Southern Arizona in late January 2018 to work with Arizona Border Recon, an armed group that patrols the U.S.-Mexico border near Arivaca for illegal border crossings.

An FBI agent was using a confidential source who works with Arizona Border Recon and “has excellent access and participates in operations carried out by the militia group members near the border,” an FBI agent wrote in a search warrant affidavit.

The source reported that Pratchard “became visibly angry when he was told he could not have a silencer on his weapon” while working with Arizona Border Recon, the agent wrote. “He also became angry when he learned he could not go ‘hands on’ with illegal aliens crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.”

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In one recorded conversation, Pratchard said he was excited at the chance to run into a rip crew, as bandits who steal drug loads in the desert are known.

His desire to physically detain migrants and engage with rip crews, as well as use a silencer, went against the rules of Arizona Border Recon, and he was kicked out after only a few days.

The head of Arizona Border Recon could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In a previous interview, Tim Foley stressed that his group is not a militia and operates within the bounds of the law.

Pratchard then went on several border operations with the confidential source over the next few months, the FBI agent wrote. Pratchard told the source he builds weapons for others and uses fake serial numbers, including his wife’s birthday.

Pratchard sold two firearms and ammunition to the source, the FBI agent wrote. Agents were not sure how many more firearms he had sold. Pratchard was arrested in June 2018 at a casino in Tucson with a .45-caliber pistol, a short-barreled rifle, another rifle and about 300 rounds of ammunition in his truck.

Agents searched his home and found various pieces of equipment used to build firearms and enough gunpowder to make about 9,000 rounds of ammunition. They also found a safe containing eight firearms, four of which were registered to his wife and four that Pratchard had built himself.

He was later indicted on 13 charges, including possession of firearms by a convicted felon; transferring firearms to an out-of-state resident; and possessing unregistered firearms. He pleaded guilty to the charges in February.

Pratchard has been in custody for more than a year and he appeared in court on Tuesday wearing shackles and an orange jumpsuit.

“This has been a difficult road for me and my family because of the choices I made,” Pratchard told Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson as he held back tears. “I made a really stupid decision.”

After two felony convictions, he never sought to have firearms, Pratchard said. But he found himself engrossed in manufacturing them.

“I got so wrapped up in the ability to build them, not necessarily in using them,” he said. “It essentially became my idol.”

He said he marveled at his own ingenuity in making firearms, which led to him making excuses to his wife to avoid going to church and to damaging his relationships.

“I don’t want anything to do with guns anymore,” he said. “They are the bane of my existence.”

The case started with federal agents “looking at a border militia” and then “morphed” into a firearms case, defense lawyer Laura Udall told Jorgenson. Now, investigators are looking at possible fraud at a charity Pratchard runs in San Diego.

Udall and fellow defense lawyer Dan Cooper said Pratchard suffered from post-traumatic stress and was diagnosed as bipolar. Federal prosecutor Beverly Anderson said Pratchard never served overseas as a Marine and “has an anger problem, plain and simple.”

Pratchard served in the Marines for about three years, which ended with a dishonorable discharge and a felony conviction for selling ecstasy pills, according to court records. He was convicted of an assault charge after a 2007 fight in San Francisco that ended with Pratchard stomping on a man’s head and leaving him lying in a pool of his own blood.

Pratchard was just 19 years old when he was caught with 15 ecstasy pills in 2001 while serving as a Marine, Udall said. The fight that led to his assault conviction came at a beer festival, and he has now been sober for 10 years. The fact that he was sentenced to probation for the assault shows it was not as serious as police reports made it sound, she said.

During an argument with his wife in 2014, he told her “she had five seconds to leave or he was going to hurt her,” the FBI agent testified in June 2018. “He grabbed her by her arms, picked her up, and threw her on the bed.” She then called the police but did not press charges, the agent said.

Jorgenson said she was convinced Pratchard was “sincerely remorseful” but said the firearms charges and “all of the activity surrounding” those charges were a “very serious matter.”

Tuesday’s hearing included numerous references to potential fraud charges that could be filed in federal court in San Diego, but no details were provided. Pratchard runs a nonprofit in San Diego that builds sports fields for schools, according to local news reports.

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© 2019 The Arizona Daily Star