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Raphy Pina Can’t Escape Gun Conviction on Appeal

A court overturned one part of the manager's conviction, but the ruling still leaves him facing prison time.

A federal appeals court has upheld Raphy Pina’s conviction on a federal gun charge, ruling that prosecutors had “overwhelming” evidence that the star music manager illegally owned firearms despite a previous felony conviction that barred him from doing so.

Lawyers for Pina (full name Rafael Antonio Pina-Nieves) had challenged the 2021 guilty verdict by arguing that the judge who oversaw the trial had allowed inadmissible testimony that had a “devastating impact” on the jury’s ability to fairly decide the case.


But in a decision Monday (Jan. 30), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said the government had provided “overwhelming” evidence that Pina owned guns. The unfair testimony might have been “highly prejudicial,” the court said, but added it was ultimately harmless because Pina likely would have been convicted without it.

Crucially, the appeals court cited a tapped phone call in which Pina himself was caught talking to an associate about a safe holding “my guns, rifles, bullets.” In that recorded call, the court said Pina “left no doubt” that the safe “contained guns and bullets that were his.”

Though it upheld one of Pina’s convictions, the appeals court overturned another one — ruling that prosecutors failed to prove that he had illegally owned an automatic weapon. The court said there was clear evidence that Pina owned the gun, but not that he had been aware that it had been illegally modified into a fully automatic weapon — a key requirement under the law.

“While Pina-Nieves does not dispute that the evidence suffices to show that he constructively possessed the weapon … we do not see how a rational juror could make the requisite inference that Pina-Nieves knew that this weapon had the characteristics of a machinegun,” the appeals court wrote.

In an interview with Billboard on Wednesday, Pina’s attorney, Edwin Prado, stressed that it is typically very difficult to overturn jury verdicts on appeal. But he reiterated his argument that alleged missteps by prosecutors had been “truly damaging” to the fairness of the trial.

“From our perspective, that was enough to overturn a verdict, but the First Circuit did not find so,” Prado said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.

Pina, a 44-year-old veteran music executive who manages Daddy Yankee, was indicted in August 2020, accused of possessing two handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition despite the fact that he was barred from doing so because of his 2016 conviction on federal fraud and money laundering charges. Prosecutors separately alleged that one of those guns was a Glock pistol that had been “modified to fire fully automatically with a single pull of the trigger” — making it an illegal automatic weapon.

Following a December trial in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Pina was convicted on both charges. In May, he was sentenced to 41 months (3 years and five months) in prison and ordered to pay a $150,000 sanction.

Despite Monday’s partial reversal, it’s unclear if Pina’s prison sentence will be reduced. When he was sentenced in May, the judge ruled that he was sentenced to the full 41 months “as to each count 1 and 2” but that the two sentences would be “served concurrently with each other.”

In speaking with Billboard on Wednesday, Prado said that in the wake of the reversal of the automatic weapon conviction, he believed the trial judge would now consider re-sentencing Pina to a shorter prison term of only 21 months. Combined with the eight months he has already served, Prado said he believed Pina “should be out in 2023” or shortly after: “From our standpoint, the fight is almost over.”

Read the entire decision here: