Peñitas chief of staff faces federal magistrate in firearms case

The Peñitas chief of staff facing federal charges over firearms purchases appeared for his initial hearing Wednesday.

Andres Morales of Mission, chief of staff for the city of Peñitas, appeared via videoconference for his initial hearing before federal Magistrate Judge J. Scott Hacker on allegations that he made “materially false statements,” when he purchased two rifles in January and July of 2017.

According to court records, Morales, 42, allegedly lied on the forms when he purchased the rifles when he stated he had not been previously convicted of a felony in both instances.

“On each occasion in connection with the purchase of said firearms, Morales answered and indicated ‘no’ when asked “Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation,” according to the criminal complaint.

According to state records, Morales was previously convicted in 2001 and 2006 on drug possession charges involving marijuana.

Morales pleaded guilty to the marijuana possession charge — this time a second-degree felony possession of more than 50 pounds but less than 2,000 — in 2006.

In the 2001 and 2006 cases, Morales received probation of four and five years, respectively, records show.

On Tuesday, Morales told federal agents that “he was working on his pardon but never got it,” in reference to his past convictions, according to the complaint.

The court also scheduled Morales’ detention hearing for Thursday afternoon.

The punishment range for a conviction of a firearm charge involving prohibited persons carries a maximum of 10 years in federal prison.