Two veterans — including a Navy vet who co-founded the Veterans for Trump organization — remain locked up in a Philadelphia jail and facing gun charges after their arrest last week outside a convention center where election officials were counting ballots from the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to court documents obtained by Military Times.
Joshua Macias, a Navy veteran and co-founder of Veterans for Trump, as well as Army veteran Antonio LaMotta, are each facing two charges after their Nov. 5 arrest: concealing a weapon without a valid license to carry, which is a third-degree felony punishable by up to seven years in prison; and carrying a weapon in public in Philadelphia without a carry permit, which is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a possible five-year sentence. Both men live in Virginia.
A press release from the Veterans for Trump group characterized Macias and LaMotta as “political prisoners” of an “activist” district attorney. A Veterans for Trump official did not respond to a request from Military Times for further comment.
The Philadelphia Police Department is no longer investigating the two men beyond the weapons charges, according to a department spokesperson reached by Military Times.
Macias did not intend violence and “held a reasonable belief” his Virginia permit to carry his .40 caliber handgun was reciprocally recognized in Pennsylvania, according to his attorney, A. Charles Peruto Jr., who spoke with Military Times by phone on Wednesday afternoon.
Peruto said that the charges are “100 percent” politically motivated.
“There are hundreds of cases” where the state weapons permit charge is reduced to a misdemeanor, Peruto told Military Times. Pennsylvania law allows the charge to be reduced to a first-degree misdemeanor if the accused is otherwise eligible for a Pennsylvania gun permit.
But the men’s second gun charge — the misdemeanor for carrying without a license in Philadelphia — may make them ineligible for such a reduction. According to the law, a defendant is only eligible for the charge downgrade if he or she “has not committed any other criminal violation."
Macias has a hearing scheduled for Nov. 16 to potentially reduce his bail, which is currently set at $750,000. His attorney, Peruto, indicated to Military Times that the district attorney’s office plans to oppose the motion.
LaMotta has a public defender, according to court records. He was carrying a 9mm Beretta at the time of his arrest, and the Philadelphia Inquirer reports he told officers he did not have a Pennsylvania permit for the weapon at the time of his arrest.
His bail is also set at $750,000, and he does not have any appearances currently scheduled, according to court records obtained by Military Times.
The district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to Military Times' request for an update on the case.
The two men were arrested Thursday near the Philadelphia convention center, where election officials were counting ballots that — once the count was completed — ultimately showed President-elect Joe Biden to be the apparent winner of the critical state of Pennsylvania.
Macias and LaMotta feared “shenanigans” at the vote counting site, according to police records obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer, after Republican officials leveled unsupported fraud allegations at city elections officials.
Macias and LaMotta traveled to the city from Virginia in the latter’s Hummer, which had QAnon stickers, an AR-15 pattern rifle, a box of timesheets, and an air purifier.
Macias railed against media coverage of his arrest in a recorded phone call from jail posted by Veterans for Trump, including reports that misinterpreted information from prosecutors about their alleged intent. The initial news reports included a now-discredited claim that Macias and LaMotta were trying to deliver fake ballots to the convention center.
The local CBS affiliate whose report provided the headline for a since-corrected CNN story has walked back that detail, which was likely based on an ambiguous text message prosecutors said one of the men sent to an unknown person.
“Going to Pa. Have a truckload of fake ballots. We are going to raid,” the text message said. The Philadelphia Inquirer published the messages, and a prosecutor’s office spokesperson said no ballots were recovered from the Hummer.
A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department denied that there was any political influence on the initial investigation by its officers that resulted in the men’s arrest.
A fundraiser for their bail and legal defense had raised less than $2,500 as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.