The pride of Gilroy, current interim WBC welterweight champion boxer Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero, 30, was packing more than a powerful punch Thursday morning when he was arrested at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport and charged with illegally traveling with an unloaded pistol and three unloaded high-capacity bullet magazines.
The gun, originally reported as unlicensed, is registered to Guerrero in California, according to Kevin R. Ryan, director of communications for the Queens County District Attorney's office.
Guerrero followed legal requirements – the firearm was in a locked gun case and he declared at the Delta ticket counter that he had a firearm in his luggage, Ryan said. But Guerrero does not possess a New York City gun license and he had been in New York since Monday, which makes it a crime.
The time is important, Ryan said, because the law does make allowances if the person is simply getting off one flight and connecting with another. He did not know if Guerrero had the gun in his carry-on or checked luggage.
Guerrero was arraigned Thursday afternoon before Queens Criminal Court Judge Ernest Hart. If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison, according to the Queens County District Attorney's office.
The weapon and the 15-bullet clips were discovered during a routine pre-flight check-in, according to a news release from Queens County District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
“I hope that Mr. Guerrero fights better than he thinks. For anyone who hasn’t gotten the message, let me be crystal clear. You cannot bring an unlicensed weapon – loaded or unloaded – into this county or this city. And if you do you will be arrested and face felony charges,” Brown said via the news release.
Guerrero has been released on his own recognizance and is free to leave New York. His next court date is set for Tuesday, May 14.
When contacted by the Dispatch on Friday morning and asked if the champion boxer wanted to tell his side or address the Gilroy community in any way, Team Guerrero publicist Mario Serrano refused to comment any further than saying: “You got the statement yesterday and its (sic) clear what happened.”
Serrano issued a joint statement with Golden Boy Promotions and Mayweather Promotions late Thursday afternoon.
While there are unconfirmed news reports about why Guerrero had a gun with him during his trip, the only statement Guerrero made at the time of his arrest was: “I am declaring that I have an unloaded firearm in my luggage. I flew to New York on Monday, March 25, from Virginia because I am being featured in a film documenting my training for the fight,” according to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.
There was no answer when the Dispatch knocked at Guerrero’s home Friday morning. The boxer is reportedly in Las Vegas training for the fight.
Guerrero, who celebrated his 30th birthday Wednesday, had finished an East Coast media swing that included appearances with his wife Casey, a leukemia survivor. He was booked on Delta Flight 1429 bound for Las Vegas, where he is training for a celebrated May 4 welterweight title fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
At the family home in Gilroy on Thursday afternoon, Guerrero's soft-spoken wife, Casey, answered the door in the working-class neighborhood on Dowdy Street. She returned the night prior after flying out of New York. With their curious 8-year-old daughter, Savannah, by her side at the doorway, Casey told the Dispatch a lot of the news reports coming out were wrong and that her husband was not trying to sneak a gun on the plane.
She had not yet spoken with her husband, and said that they told me “not to say anything” to the media. She directed all inquiries to his publicist Mario Serrano, who has failed to return multiple phone calls from Dispatch reporters.
District Attorney Brown said Guerrero presented a locked gun box to a Delta Airlines ticket agent at about 6:46 a.m. during check-in that allegedly contained an unloaded Smith and Wesson M&P .40-caliber handgun and three unloaded magazines with the capacity to hold 15 rounds. The DA said Guerrero allegedly told authorities that he possessed the unloaded firearm when he arrived in New York from Virginia on Monday and that he has been in New York since that date.
Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KOs) is a six-time, four-division world champion and current interim WBC welterweight champion. He was in New York to promote his upcoming bout against the undefeated Mayweather (43-0, 26 KOs). Guerrero appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club” on Monday along with his wife, Casey, and Guerrero appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and ESPN’s “SportsCenter” on Tuesday.
Promoters announced Thursday that the Guerrero-Mayweather fight is still on for May 4.
CEO Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions, the company which Guerrero is under contract with, told ESPN.com that he spoke to Guerrero on Thursday afternoon and that the Gilroy fighter was on his way back to Las Vegas to resume training.
"Robert will have to show up in court in New York and have to explain himself, but there are no implications on the fight," Schaefer said.
Guerrero will reportedly earn nearly $5 million for the bout.
His wife Casey confirmed she was with her husband for a Monday appearance on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s “The 700 Club” in Norfolk, Va., with evangelist Pat Robertson before returning to New York. She parted with Robert on Wednesday to fly home while he stayed with his father and the rest of the Guerrero entourage.
In Gilroy, Marcus Medina, a senior baseball player at Gilroy High School who was working out with two of his teammates at Gilroy Health & Fitness, said he has a friend who is related to Guerrero and would go over to his home to get autographs.
“I was surprised. I don’t even know why he had a gun," Medina said.
George Villa, a personal trainer at Gilroy Health & Fitness, lives in Salinas and goes to school at Gavilan College. He met Guerrero once while getting a haircut next door.
“He was a humble guy. That’s why it kind of surprised me. I’ve been following him since he was an amateur," Villa said.
“It doesn’t really effect the way I look at the guy. He’s still a good, humble person who helps out the community.”
“When he signed that fight with Mayweather, everybody (in the gym) was talking about it.”
Gilroy Mayor Don Gage was blindsided by the news – he hadn't heard at 12:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Gage said. “I know Robert. I have no idea why he was doing that or what his reason was. It will have to work itself out, I guess.”
Gage said he hadn’t heard any reason why Guerrero might feel the need to bring a gun to an airport.
“It is surprising, but he could very easily be a target,” Gage said. “Around here, he’s very well known, and he’s moving up in status and rank.
“I see him in the gym all the time. He’s never mentioned anything. I don’t know.”
Outside of Fifth Street Coffee in downtown Gilroy, Robert Flores of Hollister, and A.C. Smith of Watsonville were enjoying a cup of coffee like they do every week.
“Gee, what an unfortunate, dumb thing to happen. I think he’d have a little bit of common sense,” Flores said.
In New York, District Attorney Brown explained a recent change in state law.
“Earlier this year, New York State enacted the nation’s toughest gun restrictions – the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013 (NY SAFE ACT). One provision of that law is that the penalty for possessing an unloaded firearm is raised from being a Class A misdemeanor to being a Class E felony. It is therefore more important than ever that if a passenger chooses to travel with a weapon, they should first acquaint themselves with the weapon laws of the jurisdiction that they are visiting and comply with any and all legal requirements. Otherwise, they may find themselves being arrested and charged with a felony – as is what occurred in this case.”
Until recently, New York State Law prohibited any high-capacity magazine that had the capacity to hold more than 10 bullets. The law was changed in January 2013 limiting magazines to seven bullets. As such, the 15-bullet magazines were illegal before any change in New York's laws, Queens County DA Director of Communications Ryan explained. He added that while Guerrero faces up to four years in prison if convicted for the illegal possession of the firearm in New York, the possession of the high-capacity bullet magazines are more serious charges and he faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Scott Forstner is a general assignment reporter who covers education and other community issues for the Morgan Hill Times. Reach him at (408) 847-7158 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org