Judge to decide future of 94 guns

Firearms seized in ’09 Mann case

Seven years after federal agents showed up on the doorstep of Dr. Randeep Mann's Pope County home and carted away 94 guns worth more than $1 million, the collectors' items remain locked up in a secret location while the federal government awaits a judge's directive on what to do with them.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Miller is to decide the matter after hearing arguments in his Little Rock courtroom this week from four competing interests.

Mann resides these days in a federal prison cell in Indiana, serving out a life sentence for using a destructive device -- a grenade -- to severely injure another physician. He claims he -- as a Class III federal firearms licensee -- legally owned the guns and they never should have been taken from him in the first place. He contends they should be returned to his estate.

His wife, Sangeeta Mann, who served a year in prison for helping Mann evade the federal investigation that ultimately tied him to the bombing, also says the weapons were her husband's rightful property. As a convicted felon, she can't possess them, but she wants them sold, with half of the proceeds given to her.

Trent Pierce, the physician who was permanently injured in the Feb. 4, 2009, grenade explosion in the driveway of his West Memphis home, also wants the guns to be sold. But he wants all the proceeds to be applied to the $122.5 million judgment a Crittenden County jury ordered Mann to pay Pierce and his wife, Melissa, in March 2015 in compensatory and punitive damages as a result of the explosion.

The federal government contends that the guns "are dangerous, highly regulated and evidence in an ongoing criminal matter," referring to Mann's pending post-trial petition for relief. The government wants the weapons turned over to the secretary to the administrator of general services for the U.S. General Services Administration, the entity that "decides what happens to property forfeited under the National Firearms Act," and has the authority to decide whether to sell them to another government entity or order their destruction.

Today and Tuesday, Miller will preside over a nonjury trial on the government's 2015 petition to take control of the weapons. That petition has prompted objections from the Manns and the Pierces.

A list of 93 of the guns, some of them antiques, that was attached to the forfeiture petition identifies them as primarily machine guns, with several silencers counted as separate firearms. An illegal shotgun is listed in a separate forfeiture complaint. That complaint will be heard at the same time.

In the explosion, which jurors found in 2010 Mann had orchestrated, Pierce nearly died and was left with permanent injuries including the loss of one eye, the loss of hearing in one ear and a loss of his sense of smell.

At the time, Pierce was 54 and was the chairman of the state Medical Board. The board was investigating complaints about Mann's prescribing practices that, coupled with earlier sanctions against him, had the potential to permanently revoke his medical license.

In the forfeiture petition, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron McCree noted after Mann's March 2009 arrest on firearms and destructive device charges, he was jailed while his wife and son, Kundan Mann, kept the guns at the family's London home.

He said Jane Duke, then the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, warned Sangeeta Mann and Kundan Mann in a letter after Randeep Mann's arrest they were in illegal possession of the regulated weapons and asked them to transfer the guns to a Class III federal firearms licensee. But McCree said the mother and son didn't comply, which resulted in agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showing up at the sprawling brick house in August 2009 and carting off the weapons.

McCree said the guns should be forfeited to the government "because they were illegally possessed by Sangeeta and Kundan Mann."

The prosecutor said the government gave Randeep and Sangeeta Mann an opportunity to hand over the guns without penalty, and noted that the government could have -- but didn't -- pursue charges against Sangeeta Mann for illegally possessing the guns. McCree also argued gun laws were nevertheless violated, which requires that the weapons be surrendered. He said the violations were that Sangeeta Mann held onto the guns despite knowing they were regulated and that they weren't registered to her under the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for Sangeeta Mann, argues Randeep Mann purchased the weapons with marital money during the course of the Manns' marriage, and Sangeeta Mann is thus entitled under the law to one-half of the value of the guns.

In response to McCree's contention Sangeeta Mann failed to move the weapons after receiving Duke's letter, Rosenzweig said the letter went to attorneys, and Sangeeta Mann "essentially had no personal knowledge of these matters and relied on the attorneys' actions. While these matters were being handled by counsel, the government seized the weapons."

The Pierces' attorney, Robert Cearley Jr., also questions whether Sangeeta or Kundan Mann knew they had an obligation to remove the guns from the home before they were seized, and based on that, whether the government has a legitimate case to seek their forfeiture.

The Pierces have asked to have the guns inspected, to determine their value, which has been estimated from $1 million to $2 million, but the government has steadfastly opposed the request for an inspection, saying the monetary value of the guns is irrelevant to the forfeiture petition.

Randeep Mann's convictions in the bombing were upheld in late 2012 by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear further appeals. On Oct. 20, 2014, Mann filed a petition seeking a new trial based on what he maintains were "egregious violations" of his constitutional rights that led to his conviction.

NW News on 08/22/2016