U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Eastern District of California
Eastern District of California
For Immediate Release
February 27, 2014
Benjamin B. Wagner, United States Attorney
Contact: Lauren Horwood
Sacramento Men Indicted for Illegally Manufacturing and Selling Assault Rifles in Sacramento Area and Fresno
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal grand jury indicted brothers Luis Cortez-Garcia, 44, and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia, 37, of Sacramento, today charging them with unlawful manufacturing and sales of firearms, conspiracy to unlawfully manufacture and sell firearms, and several counts each related to the unlawful possession, manufacturing, and sale of short-barreled rifles, machine guns, and silencers, announced U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Joseph M. Riehl; Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations Daniel Lane; and California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms Chief Stephen Lindley. Both defendants are charged with being an alien in possession of firearms, and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia is also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms.
During the course of a joint investigation by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms (BOF), undercover agents and at least one convicted felon purchased manufactured-to-order assault weapons from the defendants. These firearms did not have any manufacturer markings or serial numbers, making them untraceable should they be involved in criminal activity. The purchases were for cash, and no background check, waiting period, or required transaction paperwork was completed.
According to search warrants unsealed today, Luis Cortez-Garcia and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia are part of a network of individuals engaged in the illegal manufacture and sale of firearms. On October 9, 2013, eleven locations were searched in Sacramento, West Sacramento, Antelope, Auburn, Ione, Placerville, and Fresno. During those searches, 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 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 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 ICE Homeland Security Investigations in 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 and manufactured and sold AR-15-style pistols and rifles. The defendants did not have a license to manufacture or sell firearms. Further, the defendants sold firearms without filling out required ATF or BOF firearm transaction reports or subjecting the buyer to a background check or waiting period. In addition, as an illegal alien and a felon, the defendants were prohibited from possessing firearms.
According to federal law, a person 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, to manufacture a firearm requires a license from ATF. A firearm that is transferred to another person must bear a serial number.
Most firearm parts are not subject to regulation by ATF and can be bought and sold without reporting the sales and without requiring a background check. 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. These parts (e.g., the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism) are the internal mechanical parts that combine 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 firearm by statute even if there is no barrel, handle, or trigger, and it is subject to federal regulation.
According to the search warrant affidavit, once a customer purchased the firearm parts including a blank lower receiver, he was directed to Emiliano Cortez-Garcia who operated the drill press. Once Emiliano Cortez-Garcia had completed machining the lower receiver, he or Luis Cortez-Garcia would assemble the completed AR-15. Customers paid cash to receive a complete firearm that bore no serial number. No ATF paperwork or background checks were completed. During the course of the investigation, ATF conducted seven undercover purchases of AR-15 firearms.
The investigation is continuing. Additional search warrants were executed yesterday at three locations in Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and Orangevale. It is anticipated that additional defendants will be charged in connection with the conduct under investigation.
This case is the product on an investigation by ATF, HSI, and the California Department of Justice’s BOF, with assistance from the Sacramento Police Department, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, and California Highway Patrol. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Lee is prosecuting the case.