Former Monroe County Administrator Tom Willi and his gun-shop partner Jarvis Osorio want to change their pleas to federal charges that include knowingly selling firearms to convicted felons and trying to make a gun sale after being arrested.
U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez on Wednesday ordered the case referred to Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow for a change-of-plea hearing at the defendants' request.
The request is a tell-tale sign that a defendant wants to take a plea bargain with prosecutors rather than risk losing big at trial.
Willi and Osorio would face 35 years each if convicted of everything prosecutors say they did as the owners of Outbreak Ordnance Gun Shop on Big Pine Key.
Federal agents orchestrated a sting capturing illegal gun sales on video with the help of confidential informants posing as both felons and non-felons willing to fill out background forms legally required for firearm sales.
Not only would jurors watch and listen to recorded gun deals at trial, they would also learn allegations that Willi and Osorio kept trying to sell guns even after their July 2015 arrests.
No hearing dates had been set as of midday Friday and their trial remained set for July 11 in Key West.
The pair's attorneys, including Edward Shohat of the Miami firm of Jones Walker, didn't return messages for comment Friday.
According to the original indictment released in July 2015, Willi and Osorio used their gun shop from Sept. 12, 2013, to Feb. 25, 2015, to sell firearms to felons, who are forbidden under the law to have them.
Prosecutors say the business partners had someone with no felony arrest record fill out the required federal background documents as if that person was the one buying the weapons. Then, Willi and Osorio would sell the guns to the real buyer, a man with a felony record.
But it turned out both the real buyer and the non-felon filling out forms were undercover informants working for the government.
The pair is also charged with delivering pistols to buyers before the mandatory three-day waiting period ended.
In March, Willi and Osorio were charged with 24 additional counts, with 14 related to receiving and possessing unregistered concealed weapons designed to look like canes, flashlights and pocket knives.
If convicted, these counts carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
The grand jury also tacked on charges they sold firearms to a person under age 21 and made false statements in connection with the sale of a firearm.
The newer charges came after jail recordings of conversations between Willi and Osorio with unnamed third parties surfaced.
Willi and Osorio, who was arrested at his job as a security guard at the federal courthouse in Key West, both initially pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of illegal firearms sales in July 2015.
They were arrested July 16, 2015, after federal agents raided their shop at 11 County Road.