SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Two Sacramento brothers were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of illegally manufacturing and selling firearms following a multiagency probe.
Luis Cortez-Garcia, 44, and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia, 37, are accused of illegally manufacturing and selling firearms; conspiracy; and several criminal counts involving the unlawful possession, manufacture and sale of short-barreled rifles, machine guns and silencers. The men are also charged with being aliens in possession of firearms. Emiliano is also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms.
During the course of a joint investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Calif. Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms (BOF), undercover agents and at least one felon purchased made-to-order assault weapons from the defendants. The firearms lacked any manufacturer branding or serial numbers, rendering them untraceable if they were involved in criminal activity. The purchases were made in cash, without background checks, waiting periods, or completion of the required transaction paperwork documenting the sales.
According to search warrants unsealed Thursday, the defendants are part of a network of individuals engaged in the illegal manufacture and sale of firearms. During searches late last year in Sacramento, West Sacramento, Antelope, Auburn, Ione, Placerville and Fresno, agents seized 345 guns, including multiple fully automatic assault rifles, illegal short-barreled rifles and silencers.
"The conduct alleged in this case involves the systematic evasion of federal firearms laws, for profit, in a manner that created a real threat to public safety," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner. "The unregistered, untraceable firearms created and sold by these defendants included multiple AR-15-style assault rifles, similar to the guns used in shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and Aurora, Colorado. Our investigation is ongoing, and we expect to charge additional persons involved in similarly dangerous commercial sales of illegal guns."
"Manufacturing and selling unmarked firearms is illegal and poses grave danger to our communities," said ATF Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Riehl. "These unmarked firearms used in violent crimes are difficult, if not impossible to trace back to perpetrators of the offense."
"The federal regulations involving the manufacture, sale and export of firearms are designed to ensure that guns and other weapons don’t end up in the hands of criminals and others bent on doing us harm," said Daniel Lane, assistant special agent in charge for HSI Sacramento. "As this case demonstrates, HSI, together with our law enforcement partners are aligned in the effort to target those who seek to profit by circumventing these laws with zero regard for the public’s safety."
According to court records, the defendants operated shops in Sacramento and Fresno where they manufactured and sold AR-15-style pistols and rifles without a license; without completing background checks on buyers; without subjecting buyers to waiting periods; and without completing the required ATF or BOF firearm transaction reports. Additionally, as an illegal alien and a felon, the defendants were prohibited from even possessing firearms in the first place.
Under federal law, an individual may manufacture a firearm for personal use without including a serial number on the firearm, provided that the firearm is not sold or transferred to another person. Otherwise, manufacturing a firearm requires a license from the ATF. A firearm that is transferred to another person must bear a serial number.
Most firearm parts are not regulated by the ATF and can be bought and sold without reporting the sales and without background checks. According to court documents, the defendants and others involved in the scheme sold the parts necessary to assemble a firearm. The parts included a metal casting of an incomplete lower receiver called a "blank," which is not considered a firearm by ATF. The blank is eventually converted into a lower receiver using a drill press or automated machine that creates the precise shape and space necessary for the lower receiver to accept the parts that will allow the firing of a projectile. The parts are then combined with a trigger, firing pin and other parts to form a functioning firearm. Once the blank is milled into a completed lower receiver, it is considered a firearm by statute and is subject to federal regulation.
According to the search warrant affidavit, once a customer purchased the firearm parts, he was directed to Emiliano Cortez-Garcia, who operated the drill press. After Emiliano Cortez-Garcia had finished machining the lower receiver, he or Luis Cortez-Garcia would assemble the completed AR-15. Customers paid cash to receive a firearm that bore no serial number. No ATF paperwork or background checks were completed. During the course of the investigation, the ATF conducted seven undercover purchases of AR-15 firearms.
The investigation is continuing. Additional search warrants were executed Wednesday at three locations in Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and Orangevale. It is anticipated additional defendants will be charged in connection with the investigation.
The Sacramento Police Department, Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol also assisted with this investigation.