Southern California Men Plead Guilty in Scheme to Manufacture and Sell AR-15-Type ‘Ghost Guns’
LOS ANGELES – Two men have pleaded guilty in a conspiracy that operated an illegal business that built and sold unserialized AR-15-type firearms – commonly referred to as “ghost guns” – capable of accepting high-capacity magazines.
The week before they were scheduled to go on trial, the two defendants each pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of conspiracy to engage in the business of manufacturing and dealing in firearms without a license.
The two defendants who pleaded guilty are Travis Schlotterbeck, 37, of Fountain Valley, and James Bradley Vlha, 29, of Norco. The scheme was based at two Bellflower businesses controlled by Schlotterbeck called Sign Imaging and Live Fire Coatings. Neither the businesses nor the defendants had a federal firearms license to engage in the manufacture or sale of firearms.
According to court documents, Schlotterbeck and Vlha admitted that they took custom orders for AR-15-type firearms – both rifles and pistols – which they then manufactured and sold to undercover operatives with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The defendants obtained the firearm parts, arranged for certain parts – including unfinished lower receivers often called “80% lowers” – to be machined for use in building completed firearms, and assembled and finished the firearms for sale without any serial numbers or manufacturer markings.
As part of the scheme that lasted from 2015 through 2017, Schlotterbeck and Vhla sold six of the ghost guns to ATF undercover agents and a confidential informant in 2015 and 2016, charging from $1,500 to $2,000 for each firearm. Both men were charged in a federal grand jury indictment filed in 2019.
In addition to the conspiracy count, Schlotterbeck also pleaded guilty to one count of selling a firearm to a convicted felon in relation to the sale of an AR-15-type rifle to the informant while being aware that the informant had previously been convicted of a felony offense.
Schlotterbeck and Vlha pleaded guilty before United States District Judge George H. Wu, who scheduled sentencing hearings for both defendants on November 17.
The conspiracy count that both defendants pleaded guilty to carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. The charge of selling a firearm to a convicted felon carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The ATF conducted the investigation in this matter.
Assistant United States Attorneys Brian R. Faerstein of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section and Dan G. Boyle of the Asset Forfeiture Section are prosecuting this case.