Adams says in federal court documents that the firearms are worth more than $1 million and the Homeland Security Department investigation that led to their seizure is destroying his gun dealer business.
Federal agents confiscated the firearms in January from his gun shop on Carlisle NE and his Albuquerque home.
The search and seizure warrants allege broad violations of federal gun laws, including illegal importation and intentional avoidance of taxes and customs duties.
So far, Adams hasn't been charged with any crime or violation of federal gun regulations. But in court documents filed last week, federal prosecutors said they expect to charge Adams sometime this fall for illegally importing the guns.
Adams, 68, has been collecting guns for 50 years and has been a licensed gun dealer in Albuquerque for decades.
Federal agents paint a picture of a man illegally importing guns through Canada to avoid customs import duties who also played fast and loose with federal regulations governing licensed gun dealers.
In an unusual legal maneuver, Adams' attorneys, Nancy Hollander and Vincent Ward, filed court documents last month asking that the guns be returned.
Hollander and Ward allege the seizure was done under warrants based on information that was three years old, and that many of the firearms seized were entirely unrelated to the allegations in the search and seizure warrants.
They also allege Homeland Security agents went beyond the scope of the warrants by seizing all of Adams' guns, and not just those that might be evidence of arms smuggling.
Federal prosecutors claim Adams' attorneys are trying to suppress evidence in a criminal case before Adams is indicted.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Cairns responded to Adams' claims last week that the investigation has been slowed because many of the weapons have no serial numbers from manufacturers or importation numbers as required by law.
In a May email, Cairns wrote, "I could have Mr. Adams arrested today on a criminal complaint, and if we went to trial this week, I could readily prove several dozen felony counts" of a federal statute that makes it illegal to remove the importer's or manufacturer's identification number from a firearm.
"The reasons I have not had Mr. Adams arrested are his age, lack of criminal record and my attempt to not inject hostility and animosity into the case," he wrote.
The email exchange that includes Cairns' email was attached to Adams' motion to get his guns returned.
Neither Adams' attorneys nor the U.S. Attorney's Office would comment on the case.
Investing in guns
While some people invest in stocks and bonds for retirement, Bob Adams says he collected firearms, using his small business to supplement his federal pension by selling, purchasing and trading firearms.
Most of his business revolved around the sale of collectible firearms, categorized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as antiques or curios and relics. "I consider my personal collection to be a retirement fund ..." Adams said in court filings. "I dispose of them as needed to fund my retirement and for cash flow for my business."
He estimates that 80 percent of the guns seized by federal agents fall into the categories of antiques or curios and relics. Federal law classifies antique firearms as those manufactured in or before 1898 and include black powder flintlocks, muskets, matchlocks and modern replicas as long as they have not been redesigned to use modern ammunition. Curios and relics are another ATF category that includes firearms made more than 50 years ago that derive a substantial monetary value from the fact they are novel, rare, bizarre or have an association with some historical figure, period or event.
One such gun seized in the raid, according to Adams' website, is a Springfield Model 1879 Trapdoor .45/70 Saddle Ring Cavalry Carbine that was purchased from a nowdefunct studio where it was used as a prop gun. It is fitted with a rifle rear sight, but otherwise it is an original cavalry carbine.
Adams says the market for such guns fluctuates and it could take him years to find a buyer for a particular weapon. He claims the Homeland Security raid created a "business disaster" and that he had to turn away prospective buyers because federal agents had taken the guns that buyers were seeking.
While all his business licenses from the ATF were seized, none has been revoked.
In May, Homeland Security returned two of the guns and backup copies of some of his files.
Tax avoidance alleged
Federal law enforcement paints a different picture of Adams.
The search warrant affidavits allege he consistently broke federal gun laws by importing weapons from around the world, transferring the weapons to his "personal collection" and only putting them on the "books" when he sold them.
Federal prosecutors say few of the sold guns were put on the "books" and the lack of sales records has slowed their investigation.
Many of the guns, according to federal prosecutors, were purchased at Canadian auctions.
In the process, he avoided paying customs duties and federal gun taxes, they allege.
In some cases, agents claim, he made the weapons difficult if not impossible to trace if used in the commission of a crime and stripped the weapons of importers' serial numbers -- also a federal felony.
Adams' troubles with federal agencies began in 2006 when his licensed firearms business was inspected for compliance with federal laws and regulations by the ATF.
The ATF found 32 instances where Adams had removed importers' marks from imported firearms.
They also had trouble resolving paperwork issues because Adams had transferred firearms from his business to his personal collection and then back to the gun shop.
The ATF took no action in 2006 and inspected Adams' business again in 2009, finding some of the same problems as the 2006 inspection.
In 2010, the ATF analyzed Adams' licensed sales, and concluded he was avoiding excise taxes and ATF inspection by transferring the guns in and out of his personal collection. But again no action was taken, according to court records.
Adams' attorneys say in court documents that no further inspections of his business were conducted before Homeland Security raided his business and home more than two years later in January 2013.
The search warrants show the latest investigation of Adams' gun business started because he was attempting to import 135 firearms from Canada.
Those guns were seized by Canadian law enforcement because their storage did not comply with Canadian laws.
Canadian authorities and Homeland Security have been communicating about the guns seized in Canada, but it is difficult to tell which agency initiated the investigation into the weapons seized there.
Adams has not been charged with any crime in Canada.
(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services