Homer Helter trial: Prosecution wrapped up its case today in federal court

Dania Maxwell/Staff
Homer Helter’s Antique & Military Mall owner Homer Helter pauses as he enters the U.S. District Courthouse in Fort Myers before an August 2012 preliminary hearing on charges of selling guns without a federal license.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Homer Helter’s Antique & Military Mall owner Homer Helter pauses as he enters the U.S. District Courthouse in Fort Myers before an August 2012 preliminary hearing on charges of selling guns without a federal license.

Homer Helter on NewsMakers 7-1-12.

Homer Helter on NewsMakers 7-1-12.

The prosecution rested its case this morning. The defense case begins this afternoon. The case could end as early as Tuesday.

The case: Homer Helter, 68, and a vendor, James Kassel, 61, are on trial in federal court in Fort Myers on charges of conspiring to and engaging in the dealing of firearms at a Naples-area store, Homer Helter’s Antique Mall. The trial began Tuesday with jury selection and continues into next week.

Thursday’s highlights:

■ The government’s star witness, informant Osvaldo LaTorre, 42, spent much of the day on the stand explaining his videotaped visits and gun buys between August 2011 and August 2012 at the Antique Mall. Most of the videotapes taken by LaTorre, a paid confidential informant convicted of two felonies in 1998, are fuzzy and sometimes barely audible.

■ Defense attorneys Donald Day and Landon Miller of Naples began their cross-examination. They attacked the prosecution’s star witness, contending he made up lies about a wife and child, and also about being from New Jersey.

■ The defense pushed the idea that some of the weapons were displayed by proud veterans and not for sale because much of the store is a museum. Helter, an antiques dealer since 1998, has one of the largest collections of military and World War II collectibles in Florida.

■ Day focused on the informant’s cooperation with the government, which dates back to 1992 and involves 40 cases for which he was paid more than $87,000.

Quotable:

■ “This is crazy,” Kassel told Helter after they were arrested and placed inside a patrol car, where they were recorded. “Unbelievable I mean, what could we have done so bad? This is ridiculous.”

■ Helter told Kassel they had two options: “We either get a firearms license or we, uh, whatever we get, we hold onto for a month or two and we take them to a gun show.”

What’s next: The prosecution is expected to conclude presenting its case today at the federal courthouse in downtown Fort Myers. The defense case would begin next week.

The charges: Helter is charged with offering to sell two rifles he kept in a safe in his office in December 2011. Kassel is charged with selling two revolvers in a deal with another employee, Dennis Jarstad, in June 2012 and selling a revolver in July 2012 — both from his car in the parking lot. Jarstad, 59, another store vendor, pleaded guilty last week to selling guns without a license in a deal that dropped charges of conspiracy and selling guns to convicted felons.

The consequences: If convicted, each of the three face up to five years in federal prison.

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