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Remembering THIS ATF Outrage
The Al Woodbridge Story

by Kevin Starrett

Bob Stewart’s experiences with the ATF bear an eerie resemblance to another outrageous case of gun owner abuse.

Al Woodbridge, of Sumner Washington, was a gun dealer, a licensed firearms manufacturer and, unfortunately for him, a very successful pro-gun lobbyist in Olympia.

Woodbridge, known to most as "Big Al," counted among his friends and customers countless members of law enforcement and state legislators. He’d never been convicted of a crime, but none of this would help when the ATF set their sights on him.

In September of 1989, a shipment of gun parts was sent to Al’s shop. The parts were not ordered by Al, but they had been opened in route by Customs agents and later inspected by ATF agents who claimed they thought they were "machine gun parts."

Now it’s interesting to note that agents whose specialty is supposed to be firearms would not know that they were not "machine gun" parts but perfectly legal and unrestricted FN parts. Still, anyone who’s dealt with most ATF agents knows they rarely know what they’re doing.

When Big Al’s wife signed for the package, ATF agents and Pierce County Sheriffs Deputies swooped in and handcuffed her. (Al was not at the shop at the time.)

After cuffing Al’s wife, the agents searched his home and shop all but ignoring the package they would claim was the reason for their search warrant.

The warrant was dated the 21st of September, it alleged an offense that occurred on the 22nd and was not served until the 25th. After entering Al’s home, the agents seized numerous guns claiming they were fully automatic.

Al was charged with violating state machine gun laws, and his property was confiscated .

When Al went to court in July of 1991, the judge concluded that the state’s case was so flimsy that he directed a verdict of not guilty before even hearing Al’s defense. Jurors in the case later told Al they would have acquitted him anyway. It looked like everything was going to be ok, except Al wanted his guns back.

The government refused to return $30,000 of Al’s property telling him "We don’t return drugs to drug dealers and we don’t return guns to gun dealers." Al sued.

Just as Al’s suit was about to be heard, the Assistant US Attorney, William Redkey, indicted Al on the very same charges that had been thrown out of state court.

On the first day of his trial in January of 1994, Al and his lawyer were handed a letter saying that not only had some of his property been "inadvertently destroyed" but two of his guns, a custom made AR15 and a custom made HK 94, were "missing." In 18 years with more than 19,000 gun held in the Pierce County property room, these were the only guns ever to disappear.

The Judge in the case was a Carter appointee who came out of retirement just to hear Al’s case. Judge Tanner’s behavior in the trial created a court transcript that can only be described as Kafkaesque. There is not a single page that does not reflect judicial abuse and misconduct.

Al was allowed virtually no defense witnesses. In fact, the jury was not even allowed to know that Al had a federal firearms license! The "evidence" had disappeared and Al, who was never even permitted to inspect his property, let alone handle it, was accused by the Judge of being responsible for it’s disappearance!

In an open court room with an unsequestered jury, the Judge told Woodbridge (before a verdict had even been reached) "I have no doubt you are guilty." This statement was reported by every major media outlet and read by the jury before the deliberations had ended.

The jury was not allowed to be told that the ATF agent in charge, Ben Silva, had told a woman in another case that he was very good at lubricating the bolts of semi-auto firearms to make them appear to fire full auto, nor were they allowed to know that Silva had bragged about convicting more than 20 defendants based on multiple discharges caused by lubricated bolts or agent’s manipulation of internal parts. This in spite of the fact that that particular boast was caught on a video camera that was running nearby.

After sending the jury off to deliberate, Tanner said to Woodbridge:

"Mr. Woodbridge, there is nothing in the law that prevents me from commenting on the evidence, I haven't done it in front of the Jury, but I could. And what I have heard in this case outrages me. There is only one reason, sir, for a machine gun. It's not a collector's item. It's to kill people, and kill them quickly, and kill more than one at a time."

With no evidence and no defense permitted, Woodbridge was convicted and sentenced to 57 months in prison. The judge even added time to Woodbridge’s sentence because police had found a registered, legal suppressor! Woodbridge was given the maximum sentence by a notoriously anti-gun judge who accused him of "greed" and compared him to Al Capone.

Woodbridge’s sentence was eventually reduced to 46 months and he was released in December of ‘96 He currently lobbies for the Pacific Arms Society and the Western Fish and Wildlife Federation.

The package that started this witch hunt was never even considered at the trial.

Kevin Starrett
Oregon Firearms Federation

Kevin is a brother of Freedom, and it's great to have him on the RIGHT side of this issue.  He is the Guest Host of GOA's LiveFire with Larry Pratt.  Oregon Firearms Federation is the GOA affiliate in Oregon.


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