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Kekaha gun collector sentenced

LIHUE — A Kekaha gun collector will spend the next month in jail because he could not account for over 20 weapons registered in his name.

Jeremiah Nerpio, 67, was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors for violating weapons-possession and gun-permit laws. Nerpio could have faced more than 30 years in prison if convicted, but avoided that outcome through plea-bargaining, signing a deal in January that seemingly put him on track to stay out of jail altogether.

Nerpio pleaded no contest to five, slightly-modified charges and, in exchange, prosecutors agreed to request probation instead of incarceration at sentencing, an offer Fifth Circuit Chief Judge Randal Valenciano apparently found too generous.

“You’re spending time in jail,” Valenciano told Nerpio during Thursday’s hearing. “The only question is what.”

Until June 2016, when Kauai police officers arrested a fugitive carrying a firearm registered to Nerpio, the gun enthusiast had never been in any legal trouble beyond a traffic citation.

When police questioned Nerpio about the weapon, he admitted selling the fugitive the gun, according to County Prosecutor Justin Kollar, who explained the transaction was “obviously illegal” because the buyer, a convicted felon, was prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.

Kollar said Nerpio later showed a KPD officer all of his guns as well as a number of homemade silencers that he said he learned how to make from watching videos on the internet. Police soon realized there was further cause for concern.

Nerpio had 36 guns registered to him but only had 15 in his possession at the time, leaving 21 weapons unaccounted for, a discrepancy that initially attracted attention at the federal level.

Kollar said that because of the nature of the case, federal investigators — he didn’t specify which agency — were originally interested but ultimately declined to pursue charges due to “a statute-of-limitations issue,” at which point county prosecutors picked up the case.

The nearly two dozen missing weapons also troubled Valenciano, who spent several minutes scolding Nerpio for being careless, describing him as a firearms trafficker and accusing him of endangering the community and the state.

“You’re basically a gun runner,” Valenciano said. “You’re running guns, and that’s a problem.”

Valenciano said he decided to impose a harsher sentence than the one suggested by prosecutors in order to send a message about the gravity of Nerpio’s crimes.

“That’s where I struggle,” he said. “You don’t grasp the concept of the seriousness of this issue.”

Nerpio’s saving grace may have been the fact that on top of a clean record, he bought and registered all of his weapons legally, a point brought up by his public defense attorney, Stephanie Char, who called her client “a gun aficionado” and said he collects firearms as a hobby.

After announcing Nerpio’s sentence — a month in jail and four years probation — Valenciano said, “The only reason I’m not giving you more is because you are a legitimate gun collector. You put our law enforcement in a really tricky situation. You put our community in a really tricky situation.”

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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