25 Investigates: Secret group illegally raffling off high-powered guns on Facebook

BOSTON -- A secret Massachusetts group has been illegally raffling off hundreds of high-powered guns on Facebook, 25 Investigates uncovered.

Some of the guns, such as a Beretta ARX100 rifle, aren’t even legal to own in Massachusetts without making safety modifications, according to guidelines from the state Attorney General’s Office.

But that didn’t stop organizers of the secret, 800-member group from raffling off the firearms online and telling the winners they would have to make them legal.

WATCH THE FULL STORY ABOVE: 25 Investigates obtained video of the illegal gun raffles on Facebook.

>>RELATEDFacebook finally spells out everything it forbids

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen found this secret pipeline of money and guns changing hands out of the view and the authority of the law.

Some of group’s organizers pushed members to evade taxes and even held a gun drawing to pump the cash proceeds into the coffers of a Republican state attorney general candidate. Other organizers of the secret gun raffles are public employees, including a firefighter, court officer and even a K-9 sheriff’s officer, 25 Investigates found.

25 Investigates got access to the secret gun raffle Facebook page when a member of the group, who is a gun rights supporter came forward because he says he was so bothered by what he saw.

“When you first heard about this happening, what did you think?” Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen asked the member.

“Oh my God. What the hell are you doing?,” said the man, who asked us to hide his identity out of concern for his safety. “They’ve had people tell them it’s illegal. They know it’s illegal. They’ve been advised that it’s illegal, but yet they do it anyways. It makes all gun owners look bad.”

How the Facebook gun raffles work

25 Investigates discovered the raffle organizers sell tickets or “seats” to those interested in winning the weapon. If the gun is worth $500, there may be 50 seats at $10 or 10 seats at $50.

Facebook’s own rules prohibit unauthorized dealers from selling or trading firearms, but the group has been able to skirt the social media site’s algorithms blocking certain content by misspelling certain words.

The group posted an AK-47 assault rifle as “Ayyy Kayy 4 7” and misspelled another rifle as “Beerrreeetttaaa”

That’s not all they’re hiding. It’s illegal to hold a raffle of any kind in Massachusetts unless you're an active non-profit that's been operating for at least two years, according to state law.

Maybe that’s why 25 Investigates found so many of the Facebook posts referring to “waffles” – not raffles and selling tickets for “doll hairs” instead of dollars.

The insider who spoke with 25 Investigates estimates the group has raffled off hundreds of guns in roughly the past year.

In less than two weeks, 25 Investigates counted more than 30 secret gun raffles and they appeared to be collecting all of that money online and tax-free.

Group also avoids paying taxes

Facebook group administrators frequently posted messages telling members to pretend to be sharing money with “friends and family” through the money transfer site PayPal, adding on one occasion, “NO NOTES! No one wants to get hit with a 1099” tax form.

25 Investigates e-mailed and called the administrators and members of the Facebook group, including Donny Vieira, who was seen holding many of the gun raffles and won at least one of them, according to a Facebook video posted to the group.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen found him in New Bedford and asked him why he was holding online gun raffles when it’s against the law.

“Why are you recording me right now?,” Vieira told Eric before refusing to comment and driving away.

Dan Linskey, a former superintendent in chief with Boston Police, said the raffles could put this group in the crosshairs of state authorities.

“You also see the conversation about making sure we keep this quiet because we don’t want to pay the taxes on it,” said Linskey. “You know, if we’re not paying taxes on something, if we’re hiding information, it just makes you say, ‘What else is going on here?’”

Facebook gun raffle money went to local candidate

25 Investigates followed some of the raffle money to Republic candidate for Massachusetts Attorney General, Dan Shores.

On one raffle Donny Vieira posted to the Facebook page, “Have 200 raised for dan shores so far from this let’s keep it going”

Days later, he posted an image of the receipt for his campaign donation to Shores, crossing out his name and writing in the “trust spot” – the name of the secret Facebook group.

He’s not the only member of the secret group supporting Shores.

State trial court worker Chris Resendes hosts an online talk show for New Bedford Guide.

“I’m a gun guy,” said Resendes during a recent show when Shores appeared as a guest. “But I’m also a guy who says if you get caught illegally with a firearm you should get the whole force of the law.”

Shores responded during the online show, “On every issue, you look at what the law is and whatever the law is, you enforce that law.”

Despite those comments, Resendes has yet to respond to questions about why he’s participated in these illegal gun raffles.

Records show Resendes, who lists himself as a court officer in campaign finance records, donated $500 to Dan Shores in December.

Other public employees organized Facebook gun raffles

Other organizers of the gun raffle group include Chris Pratt, a Hanover firefighter and Kenneth Almeida, a K-9 officer with the Bristol County Sheriff's Office.

25 Investigates e-mailed and called to ask for an interview before tracking Almeida down in person and ask him why he was holding illegal gun raffles on Facebook.

“Sir, we’re not doing anything illegally,” Almeida said.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen responded, “Well, the law is pretty clear about raffles. Did you not know about that?”

“No sir, I did not,” said Almeida. “That’s all I have to say.”

25 Investigates repeatedly asked to speak with AG candidate Dan Shores about some of the donations he’s received. So far, his campaign has only emailed a statement that he doesn’t condone any activity that’s against the law and that all contributions his campaign has received are in compliance with state law.

After 25 Investigates began asking questions, some of the same people moved to another secret Facebook page and continued to hold these raffles.

On Monday night, a spokeswoman for Facebook told 25 Investigates, “These groups have been removed from violating our policies… We continue to review reports from our community and remove content when it violates our policies. We use a combination reports from our community, human review and technology to find and remove content that violates our community standards.”

A PayPal spokeswoman said the accounts of the gun raffle organizers were closed for violating the “Acceptable Use Policy” after 25 Investigates contacted the company.

“PayPal’s longstanding policy is not to permit our services to be used for transactions involving ammunition and firearms,” the company said in a statement.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said he has opened in internal investigation into Almeida’s involvement in the gun raffles and what exactly was going on in those secret Facebook groups.

The state Attorney General’s Office declined to comment before 25 Investigates released its findings.