Bradley Wendt knows he may be in some trouble. But he’s holding out hope that being criminally charged with lying to the feds while selling machine guns for a profit—allegations he denies—might not be the career setback it looks like.
The police chief of Adair, Iowa, a tiny town of about 800 people with three other officers on its force, Wendt was placed on leave in September after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) raided his office and his two gun stores.
This week, the feds detailed their case against him, saying Wendt obtained dozens of machine guns for his trio of cops over the last four years. According to an indictment unsealed Thursday, Wendt was exploiting his law enforcement position to obtain military-level weaponry that he resold in his private gun stores—and his buddy’s separate firearms business.
In a Friday phone call and text message exchange with The Daily Beast, Wendt admitted that he was “overwhelmed” by the allegations. And while he deferred any questions about the indictment to his attorney, Wendt added that he “certainly” hopes he can keep his job as the top cop in Adair.
The decision, he said, is “up to city council members,” who are set to have a meeting on Monday to discuss his career fate.
“I just want people to know the truth,” he said—before his attorney added that his client was just trying to do right by his neighbors.
“Mr. Wendt’s purpose here was not to provide a personal benefit to himself or anyone else. He is a trained police officer and firearms instructor, as well as a Federal Firearms Licensee, and only sought to benefit his community,” his lawyer, Nick Klinefeldt, told The Daily Beast.
By all accounts, Adair is quintessential small-town America. The rural enclave, which sits roughly an hour outside Des Moines, has six churches and one main road. The place is best known for its massive yellow “smiley-face” water tower along Interstate 80.
“Welcome to Adair, it’ll make you smile,” the city’s slogan states.
So when Chief Wendt started collecting machine guns, the feds took notice.
“Brad Wendt is charged with exploiting his position as chief of police to unlawfully obtain and sell guns for his own personal profit,” FBI Omaha Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel said in a statement.
In the indictment, prosecutors allege that between July 2018 and August 2022, Wendt provided “law letters” to the ATF in which he justified his acquisition of guns “not lawfully available to the public” by falsely claiming they were for his department—or that he wanted them demonstrated to his officers for potential future purchases.
Then, Wendt and his friend, Robert Williams, would allegedly either resell a majority of their weapons or have paid demonstrations where patrons could shoot the machine guns.
In all, Wendt allegedly requested 90 machine guns for purchase or demonstration. ATF did not approve all the police chief’s requests for the latter.
Wendt and Williams have been charged with conspiracy to make false statements and defraud the ATF—and the police chief is also facing 18 additional counts of making a false statement to the federal agency and one count of illegal possession of a machine gun. Williams is charged with three counts of making a false statement and aiding and abetting a false statement to the ATF. (His attorney told The Daily Beast that all the firearms associated with Williams “were acquired after ATF approval with letters authored by Chief Wendt that tracked ATF forms indicating an interest in seeing sample firearms, and the firearms were all accounted for in Mr. Williams’ inventory.”)
Wendt’s lawyer said the police chief intends to plead not guilty to the charges, stating his client “has faithfully and honorably served the people of Iowa as a law enforcement officer for over 20 years.”
“All of the transactions were approved with the full knowledge of the ATF. He looks forward to proving his innocence at trial,” Klinefeldt added.
The lawyer did not respond to a follow-up request for clarification about how, exactly, Wendt obtaining and demonstrating the use of military-style weapons would benefit the residents of Adair.
Neither Adair’s mayor nor any of its city council members responded to a request for comment. Adair City Attorney Clint Fichter declined to comment about whether Wendt has been permanently removed as police chief after his arrest, stating, “I don’t support the media anyway.”
This is not Wendt’s first time having to defend himself against some wild allegations.
After nine years serving as a police officer with the Denison, Iowa, Police Department, Wendt was fired by the city in February 2017 after a lengthy administrative leave spurred by charges he was hit with two years prior. In December 2015, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources alleged that Wendt illegally killed two buck deer with two other people.
The case was eventually dismissed in November 2016. Wendt’s request to be reinstated, however, was denied by the City of Denison—which claimed that his conduct was in violation of numerous rules of the police department.
Wendt went on to file a preliminary injunction, claiming retaliation, before ultimately filing another lawsuit against the city and police department. In the end, he settled both legal actions in 2019, receiving more than $600,000 from the city due to the alleged emotional distress and loss of wages from the whole debacle. The Denison Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wendt soon found employment again, scoring a job at the Lake View, Iowa, Police Department—before becoming Adair’s chief of police in July 2018. Meanwhile, the indictment states that Wendt has owned two firearm supply stores—BW Outfitters—since 2013.
Prosecutors say that Wendt’s scheme involved both layers of his professional life—that he “obtained 10 machine guns for the Adair Police Department and 13 machine guns for BW Outfitters.”
He also allegedly wrote “approximately 22 additional demonstration law letters… requesting a demonstration of 52 total machine guns to the Adair Police Department for potential future purchase,” the indictment states. “Of those 52 guns requested by Wendt for demonstration… approximately 27 were in fact transferred and acquired” by other gun stores.
In total, prosecutors allege that Wendt purchased 25 machine guns for his police department—of four total people, including himself—and requested 65 more for demonstration. Among the weapons Wendt sought to obtain for the department, according to the feds, was a rotary M134 minigun, a firearm that is usually mounted on military helicopters.
“The Adair Police Department does not own a helicopter,” the indictment says, noting the ATF denied the transfer.
Then, Wendt allegedly sold several guns registered to the force for profit—and rented out machine guns registered to his department or gun store. The indictment notes that some of the weapons were bought with Wendt’s personal funds, and it is not immediately clear if he used any city money in the alleged scheme.
If Wendt is determined to paint the federal case as some kind of harsh crackdown on sane gun-loving behavior, he may not be able to count on universal support from the local law enforcement community.
A spokesperson for the Iowa Police Chiefs Association said that while she was not familiar with Wendt’s case, the organization “partners with federal law enforcement agencies and that includes ATF.”
“All officers are sworn to an oath to enforce the laws of the land and Constitution,” the spokesperson added. “Violating that oath is an embarrassment to the profession.”