Los Angeles Times
April 19, 2006

Upland Home Hid Cache of Guns

Nearly 900 weapons are discovered when police, seeking firearms used in shootings, raid home of a retired Army officer.

By Lance Pugmire
Times Staff Writer

Authorities announced Tuesday that they discovered nearly 900 firearms hidden in secret panels, under floors and behind walls in an upscale home in the foothills of Upland.

A team of federal, state and local police raided the house Friday as part of an investigation into a man accused of wounding his wife and a Glendora police officer during shooting incidents in February and last month.

Inside the home, authorities found assault weapons, submachine guns, automatic rifles, explosive devices and other weapons, said Shirley Lesslak, a Department of Justice special agent supervisor.

A wine cellar had been converted into a makeshift weapons storage area and shooting range, Lesslak said.

Authorities arrested the homeowner, Robert Ferro, 61, a retired Army Special Forces officer, accusing him of running a huge black-market gun business out of the home at the end of cul-de-sac.

The San Bernardino County district attorney filed eight felony counts against Ferro on Monday, including possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a destructive device, possession of a silencer and possession of a deadly weapon.

In the early 1990s, Ferro made headlines after he was accused of running a paramilitary camp on a Pomona chicken ranch that was dedicated to the overthrow of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. At the ranch, authorities found 5 pounds of C-4, a putty-like explosive. He was convicted of possession of illegal explosives in 1992 and sentenced to two years in prison.

Detectives said they were stunned when they entered Ferro's house and came across the wide array of guns.

"We went there looking for two guns," said Det. Joe Rodriguez of the Glendora Police Department. "We didn't expect to find more than 800. It was quite out of anyone's grasp. We are still trying to comprehend it."

Rodriguez said he and his colleagues uncovered weapons wherever they looked behind framed paintings, thermometers and mirrors, inside hollowed-out walls of closets and under the staircase.

Detectives gave two taps to a bookcase and it opened up to reveal more weapons, Rodriguez said.

They said they found some of the most powerful firearms Uzis and AK-47s in the master bathroom and bedroom, behind clothing and plywood.

"The majority of the guns had fully loaded magazines," Rodriguez said, adding that the makeshift shooting range in the basement appeared to have been used recently.

Authorities believe those who used the range attached silencers to their weapons to avoid tipping off neighbors.

Residents on Tapia Way described Ferro as a friendly neighbor who had several children and who had lived on the street at least 16 years. They said they had no idea that hundreds of guns were hidden throughout his house.

"He seemed to be a normal family man," said Douglas Null, a neighbor about four houses away. "Nothing ever goes on around here. It's very surprising."

Neighbor Bill Applebee, 69, said Ferro helped him fix a plumbing problem at his home and that Ferro's wife routinely drives their son and Applebee's granddaughter to Upland High School.

Ferro's large white stucco home has a U.S. flag hanging from its eaves and seven cars, including a Rolls-Royce, parked outside, one with an Army Special Forces license plate frame. Applebee said Ferro told him he had served in Vietnam.

In the early 1990s, Ferro, a Cuban immigrant, became something of a cause célèbre after his arrest. Prosecutors accused him of using the explosives to train Mexicans to overthrow Castro. His attorney denied that Ferro did anything wrong and said his client was a patriot with a distinguished military career, including volunteering for Operation Skyhook, a private effort to rescue missing servicemen believed held in Vietnam.

Neither Ferro, who was being held at San Bernardino County Jail on $5-million bail, nor his attorney could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Will Telish, an assistant special agent with the Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, said authorities believed Ferro sold the guns, other weapons and equipment at local swap meets and at an "appointment-only" antiques shop he owns in Upland.

"Lots of these [purchases] were done by word of mouth on the street, like how narcotics are trafficked," Telish said.

"You sell them on the black market like selling purses out a trunk," Rodriguez said.

Authorities began investigating Ferro because of his association with Frank Fidel Beltran, who was arrested on suspicion of shooting a police officer who was responding to a domestic disturbance at Beltran's Glendora home Feb. 10. The officer suffered a wound to the hand.

Beltran, who evaded capture for nearly a month, also is accused of shooting his wife eight times a few weeks later. That shooting occurred on a San Dimas street, where he apparently had been following her car.

"She noticed him and tried to get away," Los Angeles County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. David Vega said. "He chased her down after she crashed into a curb and started blasting her."

Beltran fired 20 shots and fled, police say. His wife remains hospitalized.

Beltran, 36, was arrested a few days later at a home in Rancho Cucamonga owned by Ferro. It is unclear why Beltran was at the home. Authorities believe Ferro provided Beltran with his weapons, Telish said.

Telish said authorities were conducting tests to establish whether any of the guns at the Ferro home matched those used in the shootings Beltran is accused of.

Times staff writer David Pierson contributed to this report.