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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Eastern District of California

For Immediate Release

August 28, 2012

Benjamin B. Wagner, United States Attorney

Contact: Lauren Horwood
(916) 554-2706


SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Thomas Lu, 42, of Elk Grove, pleaded guilty today to 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.

"By misusing his law enforcement status to personally profit through acquiring and reselling dangerous firearms, former Deputy Lu endangered rather that protected the public he was duty-bound to serve," stated U.S. Attorney Wagner. "Today's guilty plea marks an important step forward in this prosecution."

"ATF continues to vigorously track those individuals who chose to violate the law and illegally traffic in firearms," said Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Riehl." "Collectively we stopped individuals who disregarded the public trust intrinsic to their position as an officer of the law, and sold weapons that in the wrong hands would place the community at risk."

Lu was charged in June 2012 with fellow Sacramento County Sheriff Deputy Ryan McGowan, 31, of Elk Grove 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. The charges are only allegations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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 court documents, LU obtained 34 handguns since 2008 and 27 of them were off-roster firearms. LU transferred 23 firearms to a private party, 18 of those were transferred within one year of the initial purchase.

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.

This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the ATF 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.

Lu is scheduled for a sentencing hearing on November 20, 2012 before United States District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton. 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 five 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.