PASADENA >> Federal authorities on Sunday released a list of 57 guns, value at more than $50,000, seized by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents from the Sierra Madre home of a Pasadena police lieutenant in February.
ATF and Pasadena police have released little information about the ongoing investigation, during which the lieutenant has been placed on administrative leave.
ATF agents were seen seizing numerous gun cases from the lieutenant’s home during the Feb. 16 raid, however no arrests have been made, and no details of the investigation made public.
But the U.S. Department of Justice posted a list Sunday of the weapons seized during the search Sunday as part of a national listing of property targeted by federal officials for forfeiture.
According to the document, the arsenal seized from the home of Lt. Vasken Gourdikian included 34 pistols, valued at about $27,900, 21 rifles or rifle receivers, valued at about $20,450, and two shotguns, valued at about $2,600.
The cache of weapons represented a wide variety of guns, ranging from inexpensive and small-caliber pistols to pricey and powerful tactical rifles.
Gourdikian formerly served as the police chief’s adjutant and department spokesperson.
The lieutenant and the Pasadena Police Department have repeatedly declined to comment on the investigation.
The head of the ATF’s Los Angeles-area field office issued an advisory to Southern California law enforcement agencies in late-March, caution of a growing trend of illegal weapons dealing by police officers.
LOS ANGELES >> The head of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Los Angeles has cautioned Southland police departments to watch out for the “growing trend” of law enforcement officers engaging in unlicensed, illegal firearms dealing.
In an advisory distributed to area police and sheriff’s departments and dated March 31, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF in Los Angeles Eric D. Harden warned the agency has learned of an “emerging problem” with respect to law enforcement officers buying and then reselling guns, in possible violation of federal firearms law. The involved guns include many which are considered “off-roster” under California law, meaning that they can be purchased only by law enforcement officers and are not available to the general public.
“Recently, ATF has discovered that some law enforcement officers who do not have a (Federal Firearms License) are purchasing ‘off roster’ firearms and reselling those firearms to non-law enforcement entities for a profit,” Harden wrote.
Some of the weapons have turned up at crime scenes.
“In some instances, ATF has discovered officers who purchased more than 100 “off roster” firearms that were subsequently transferred to non-law enforcement individuals,” Harden continued. “Such transactions potentially constitute violations of federal firearms laws, to include dealing firearms without a FFL, and lying on a federal firearms form when purchasing said firearm — also known as “straw purchasing.”
Officials declined to provide details regarding the incidents described in the advisory.
ATF agents conducted a search at a Sierra Madre home of a Pasadena police lieutenant.
Officials reportedly seized numerous large gun cases from the home, however no arrests were made. Federal officials released no information about the raid, and Pasadena police have deferred to the ATF for comment.
ATF Spokeswoman Ginger Colburn said the agency could not discuss whether the February raid helped prompt the ATF advisory.
“As a matter of (Department of Justice) policy, ATF cannot comment on any ongoing investigation or confirm individuals involved,” she said.
The lieutenant remains on paid leave pending the investigation, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez said. He declined to comment further.
The involved lieutenant has also declined to comment.
While individuals can sell personal firearms without a federal firearms license, anyone engaged in the business of firearms sales must obtain a federal license, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colburn said.
Harden also noted in the letter that filling out paperwork while purchasing a firearm to indicate the weapon personal use while intending to sell it or otherwise give to someone else is also a federal crime for anyone, including law enforcement.
A conviction for dealing in firearms without a license carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Making a false statement to a Federal firearms licensee when acquiring a firearm carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Harden’s advisory described the issue as a “growing trend.”
“ATF believed education is the most effective way to stop the growing trend of law enforcement officials engaging in the business of unlicensed firearms dealings,” Harden said in the advisory.
“It is our goal to educate, not investigate, to ensure law enforcement officials comply with federal law in order to avoid unnecessary public embarrassment to themselves and your Department/Agency,” he said.
But he added, “When presented with compelling evidence of flagrant violations of federal firearms laws, ATF is obligated to conduct a criminal investigation.”
LOS ANGELES >> A federal trial in which the government is seeking to seize control of the logo of the Mongols Nation Motorcycle Club scheduled to begin this week has been delayed after the presiding judge pulled himself from the case last week.
Judge Otis Wright II recused himself from the case earlier this week, according to attorney Joseph Yanny, who is representing the Mongols. Yanny and his clients have asserted for more than a year that Wright should be removed from the case for his removal for months, arguing the judge had demonstrated a bias against the motorcycle club, which prosecutors have labeled a criminal enterprise.
The decision came more than a year after Mongols attorneys filed a motion seeking a new judge in the civil case.
“It’s not that we disrespect Judge Wright, I just think it’s better for everybody the way this is going,” Yanny said.
The case was reassigned to Judge John A. Kronstadt.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for June 4 in federal court in Los Angeles. It was not clear when the trial, which was previously scheduled to begin Tuesday, will take place.
Wright previously oversaw portions of a trial in which 80 Mongols named in a federal indictment pleaded guilty to charges. The case stemmed from a 2008 federal operation targeting the Mongols in six states dubbed “Operation Black Rain.”
Yanny said Wright has made statements indicating he has a bias against the Mongols. And it was Wright who first suggested to prosecutors to go after the Mongols’ logo.
“The integrity of the system is at issue. Everybody’s entitled to a fair trial. I think he realized it was best if he stepped down,” Yanny said. “We meant no insult to him.”
U.S. Department of Justice officials previously declined to discuss the motion seeking Wright’s removal from the case.
“I think this is going to be a vast improvement for us. I could be wrong, but i think we’ll get a fair trial this way,” Yanny said.
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials maintain that the Mongols are not merely a club, but a criminal organization linked to drugs and deadly violence which uses its trademark for intimidation. Federal officials have argued that move to seize the Mongols’ logo is intended to prevent violence.
Yanny said the members involved in the 2008 indictment are no longer members of the Mongols, and that the government was seeking to punish the entire organization of more than 700 bikers based on the actions of a small proportion of members.
Furthermore, Mongols fighting in court to save their “patch” have argued in legal documents that their logo is not a trademark, such as those used by businesses, but rather represents a “collective membership mark,” amounting to protected speech under the First Amendment.
Received an interesting DOJ press release this afternoon that talks about the arrest of four local men involved in running guns and drugs for a Mexican drug cartel, right here in the San Gabriel Valley.
Here’s some of what is says:
An investigation into guns being trafficked from Arizona to California has led to the arrest of four individuals, one of whom sold several machine guns to a undercover operative and claimed to be tied to a Mexican drug cartel.
The four defendants were arrested early this morning by special agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department. During the course of the 10-month investigation, authorities purchased or seized 50 firearms, including 17 guns that were discovered during the execution of search warrants this morning.
During the investigation, an undercover operative made a series of gun purchases from three of the defendants. The purchases included guns similar to AK-47s, Uzis and AR-15s, some of which were fully automatic weapons.
Those arrested today are:
- Edgardo Prado Casteneda, aka “Primo,” 26, of Azusa, who claimed to be a Southern California operative of the La Familia drug cartel based in Michoacan, Mexico;
- Vicente Garcia Jr., aka “Chevy,” 38, of Azusa;
- Steven Scott Blanks, 47, of Norco; and
- Victor Velasquez, aka “Fingers,” 34, of El Monte, who is accused of delivering a quarter-pound of methamphetamine that was purchased by the undercover operative.
The four defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
The arrests were made today as Prado apparently made plans to collect a “debt” and possibly kidnap a man he said owed money to La Familia. Over the past several weeks, Prado allegedly had a series of conversations with the undercover operative about helping collect a large “debt” that a man owed to La Familia. According to the affidavit, Prado told the informant that a boss in the cartel that he called “Cuete” had sent a courier to Mexico to transport narcotics, but the courier was arrested and provided information to Mexican authorities that led to the arrest of another high-ranking cartel member in Mexico City. As a result of this, “Cuete” owed the Cartel $3 million. If the informant participated in the collection of the “debt,” Prado promised him a share of money that would be paid by the cartel.
A criminal complaint filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles charges Prado with selling firearms without a license and distributing methamphetamine.
Garcia is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Blanks is charged with possession of a machine gun.
Velasquez is charged with distribution of methamphetamine.
If convicted of the crimes alleged in the criminal complaint, the defendants would face maximum potential sentences of at least 10 years in prison.
An affidavit filed in federal court and attached here details gun deals, drug deals and talk of contract murder and kidnapping. All apparently connected to “La Familia,” a Mexican drug cartel. Here’s all the details