By Steve Gorman
(Reuters) – An ammunition dealer who acknowledged selling hundreds of incendiary tracer rounds to the gunman who killed nearly 60 people at a Las Vegas music festival two years ago pleaded guilty on Tuesday to manufacturing bullets without a license.
Douglas Haig, 57, of Mesa, Arizona, became the first and only person arrested and charged in connection with the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre, which ended when the gunman, Stephen Paddock, killed himself.
Haig told reporters following his arrest early last year that none of the surplus military ammunition he sold to Paddock in September 2017 was ever fired during the killing spree, which ranks as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Haig said he had no inkling of any criminal intent by his customer, recounting that Paddock said he planned to use the magnesium-packed tracer bullets to put on a “light show.”
Although the case against Haig stemmed from the federal investigation of the shooting, authorities never accused Haig of conspiring in the attack.
But prosecutors said Haig’s fingerprints were found on some of the unfired rounds in Paddock’s hotel suite and that armor-piercing cartridges recovered there bore tool marks matching equipment in Haig’s suburban Phoenix workshop.
Haig pleaded guilty to a single count of engaging in the business of manufacturing ammunition without a license, a federal firearms felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The plea deal also requires Haig to forfeit his existing inventory of ammo and presumably should end his career in bullets for good, as the agreement stipulates it would be a felony for him to possess ammunition or firearms in the future.
Sentencing is set for Feb. 19, 2020.
No motive for the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas has ever been established.
Paddock strafed a crowed of concert-goers with rapid-fire gunshots from his high-rise suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel before police stormed his room to find the 64-year-old retiree dead.
Fifty-eight victims were killed outright, and 500 others were injured. A 59th person, Kimberly Gervais, 57, who suffered a spinal wound in the shooting, died on Friday, according to the coroner in San Bernardino County, California.
Haig’s lawyer, Mark Victor, has said the casualty toll would have been lower had tracer rounds sold to Paddock been used because victims would have seen the trajectory of the gunfire in the dark and been able to take cover more easily.
According to court documents, Haig operated an unlicensed ammo business called Specialized Military Ammunition, selling his wares over the internet. He also promoted and sold ammunition he made at gun shows in Arizona and other states, occasionally shipping bullets to customers in Nevada.
The 720 tracer rounds he sold to Paddock were purchased and delivered to Paddock at Haig’s home.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Culver City, California; editing by Bill Tarrant, Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)