Sample Block

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Eastern District of California

For Immediate Release

Friday, June 01, 2012

Benjamin B. Wagner, United States Attorney

Contact: Lauren Horwood

Two Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputies and Two Others Indicted in Firearms-Buyer Scheme

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A federal indictment was unsealed today that charges four individuals in a firearm straw-buyer scheme involving firearms that are not available for sale to the public in California, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced. The indictment was returned yesterday by a federal grand jury.

Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputies Ryan McGowan, 31, and Thomas Lu, 42, both of Elk Grove, were each charged with engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license. Federal Firearms Licensee Robert Snellings, 61, of Rancho Murieta, was charged with five counts of conspiracy to make false statements in federal firearms records. McGowan and Ulysses Simpson Grant Early IV, 36, of Sacramento, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to make a false statement in federal firearms records.

Each of the counts is a felony. McGowan and Early have received summons to appear soon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund F. Brennan today at 2:00 p.m. Snellings and Lu will appear at a later date.

Under state law, California has an approved roster of firearms that may be sold to the public. A Federal Firearms Licensee is required to make sure any handgun sold is on the approved roster. There is an exemption, however, for peace officers to purchase certain high-capacity firearms known as "off-roster" firearms. Peace officers who own off-roster firearms may sell them in a private sale, as long as it is brokered by a Federal Firearms Licensee. They may not, however, use these private sales to conduct a business whose principal objective is to make a profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms.

According to the indictment and other documents filed with the district court, Snellings, a licensed firearms dealer, engaged in straw purchases involving McGowan, Lu, and other unindicted persons, who used their status as law enforcement officers to purchase off-roster firearms that were not available to the general public. Those weapons were then resold to private citizens in private transactions through Snellings’ firearms business. Early was a purchaser in one of the charged transactions.

McGowan and Lu are each charged with engaging in a firearms business without a license. Documents unsealed today indicate that each of them purchased dozens of off-roster firearms and resold many of them for profit. Snellings, McGowan, and Early are charged with various counts of conspiracy to make false statements when filling out the ATF Form 4473 that is completed when a firearm is purchased. It is alleged in the indictment that the law enforcement officer answered yes to the question on the form: Are you actual buyer of this firearm(s) listed on the form?

Snellings’ business, Snellings’ Firearms, sold or transferred 33 firearms to McGowan and 29 firearms to Lu between 2008 and late 2011. Some of those weapons were then transferred back to Snellings personally, thereby allowing Snellings to own the weapons himself or sell them to another non-peace officer. Early is alleged to have used a police officer as a straw buyer to purchase an off-roster firearm from Snellings.

According to the Automated Firearms System (AFS), since 2008, McGowan purchased 41 handguns and sold 25 of them as a private party transfer. Five were private party transferred within four weeks of the initial purchase and 15 within one year.

According to AFS, Lu obtained 27 off-roster firearms since 2008. He private party transferred 23 firearms. Eighteen were transferred within one year of the initial purchase.

When law enforcement officers misuse their badges to funnel dangerous weapons to the highest bidder, they compromise the safety of the public. By putting personal profit ahead of public safety, they undermine the very essence of their duty, said U.S. Attorney Wagner. I want to specifically thank the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office, the Sacramento Police Department, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, and other regional law enforcement agencies for their partnership in the course of this investigation.

We are all saddened that law enforcement officers chose to abuse their positions of trust by selling firearms not readily available to the public, said John P. Lee, ATF Assistant Special Agent in Charge, San Francisco Field Division. Engaging in this illegal activity threatens public safety because it allows prohibited firearms to fall into the hands of those who wish to conceal their identities. We are thankful for the cooperation of all the investigating agencies that led to their arrests and indictment.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said: Unfortunately, these two made the decision to abuse the authority that comes with the privilege of wearing a badge. Such conduct cannot–and will not–be tolerated. They not only dishonored themselves but the outstanding men and women of the Sheriff’s Department who conduct themselves with dedication and honor every single day.

Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully stated: McGowan abused his position as a law enforcement officer for his own personal gain, putting the safety of our community at risk. With this coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney's Office and local law enforcement agencies, he will be held accountable for his crimes on both the state and federal level.

This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with the active involvement of the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department and the Sacramento Police Department. The Roseville Police Department and other area law enforcement agencies assisted. As a result of the joint investigation, the Sacramento District Attorney has also filed state charges against Ryan McGowan. Assistant United States Attorneys William S. Wong and Michael D. Anderson are prosecuting the case.

The maximum statutory penalty for each of the conspiracy charges is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a term of supervised release. The maximum penalty for the charges of engaging in the business of dealing firearms without a license is 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a term of supervised release. The actual sentences, if convicted, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The indictment also includes a notice that the Government will seek forfeiture of firearms involved in the illegal transactions.

The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.