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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of California

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 15, 2015

Eight Men Indicted for Manufacturing and Dealing AR-15 Type Rifles and Silencers Without a License

Scores of Unmarked Assault Rifles and Silencers Seized

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A federal grand jury returned a 70-count indictment today against eight men, charging them with various firearms offenses involving manufacturing and dealing firearms without a license, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner and ATF Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder announced.

  • Joseph Latu, 29, of Elk Grove, is charged with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license, dealing firearms without a license, conspiracy to manufacture and deal firearms without a license, possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle, possession of an unregistered silencer, possession of an unserialized firearm.
  • Algernon Tamasoa, 27, of Sacramento, is charged with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license, dealing firearms without a license, possession of an unserialized firearm, and distribution of MDMA.
  • John Ortiz, 43, of Vallejo, and Keith White, 40, of Vallejo, are charged with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license, dealing firearms without a license, and possession of an unserialized firearm.
  • Charles Tucker, 29, of Stockton, and Ionel Pascan, 28, of Riverbank, are charged with dealing firearms without a license, conspiracy to manufacture and deal firearms without a license, possession of an unregistered short-barreled rifle, possession of an unregistered silencer, and possession of an unserialized firearm.
  • Daniel Bennett, 39, of Stockton, and David Bennett, 27, of Stockton, are charged with conspiracy to manufacture and deal firearms without a license.

 

According to court documents, between February 6 and September 28, 2015, on 24 occasions, the defendants, either individually or together, met with an undercover ATF agent and sold him a variety of firearms, including rifles, AR-15 type rifles, AR-15 type short-barreled rifles, revolvers, pistols, and silencers. In all, the sales involved 67 firearms and 38 silencers. Additionally, 71 firearms and 62 silencers were recovered during the arrest of certain defendants and ensuing execution of search warrants. In total, 238 firearms and silencers were recovered. Many of the firearms did not have a serial number or other identification markings and were manufactured from unfinished lower receivers, commonly known as “80 percent” lower receivers or “ghost guns.” None of the silencers had a serial number or other identification marking, as is required for firearms under the law. Further, many of the firearms were short-barreled rifles, which must be registered on the National Firearms Registration and Record. None of the short-barreled rifles sold to the undercover agent were registered to any of the defendants.

According to court documents, the firearms sold to the undercover agent were supplied by Latu, Tamasoa, White, Ortiz, Tucker, Pascan, Daniel Bennett, and David Bennett. Many of those firearms were manufactured from firearm parts by Tucker, Pascan, Daniel Bennett, and David Bennett. At the time he was manufacturing firearms, David Bennett worked as a San Joaquin County Sheriff correctional officer.

“High-capacity assault rifles, with silencers but without serial numbers, are some of the most lethal weapons that criminals can get their hands on,” said U.S. Attorney Wagner. “Manufacturing and selling these weapons for profit, without complying with federal licensing rules, is both a serious crime and a serious threat to public safety.”

“ATF's primary mission is to reduce violent crime and protect the public. With the seizure of 238 firearms and silencers, we have accomplished both,” said Special Agent in Charge Jill A. Snyder. “ATF will continue to pursue the individuals who chose to break the law and unlawfully traffic in firearms.”

Woodland Chief of Police Dan Bellini stated: “It was only through the collaboration of the various law enforcement agencies involved in this investigation that we were successful in bringing these charges.”

West Sacramento Chief of Police Tom McDonald stated: “This was a great example of mutual partnership between local and federal agencies in a coordinated effort to prevent crime and improve safety in our communities. The operation was successful in the interdiction of illegal firearms at their source before these firearms could reach the streets of our communities. Once again, I’d like to thank Woodland Police Chief Bellini and Resident Agent in Charge Graham Barlowe for this outstanding coordinated effort.”

According to complaints filed in the case, on several occasions in August and September, the undercover agent met with Latu, Tucker, and Pascan to discuss a large-scale purchase of AR-15 type rifles and silencers. Latu, Tucker, and Pascan agreed to manufacture 50 short-barreled AR-15 type rifles and 50 silencers, which would be sold to the undercover agent in early October.

On October 6, 2015, the undercover agent met with Latu, Tucker, and Pascan at the Yolo County Airport in Davis. Latu, Tucker, and Pascan brought 50 unmarked, unserialized short-barreled AR-15 type rifles and 50 unmarked, unserialized silencers, which they intended to sell to the undercover agent. After Latu, Tucker, and Pascan showed the undercover agent the firearms and silencers, a team of law enforcement officials arrested the three defendants. At the time of his arrest, Pascan had a handgun concealed in his waistband and a second handgun was under the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Later that day, law enforcement authorities arrested Tamasoa, White, and Ortiz. On October 14, 2015, authorities arrested Daniel Bennett and David Bennett.

In addition to the firearms charges, Tamasoa was also charged with selling MDMA to the undercover agent in a transaction on April 3, 2015. Tamasoa and Ortiz were separately indicted in an unrelated narcotics case on June 18, 2015. Both defendants were released on bond in that case. (Case # 2:15-cr-124 KJM)

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the West Sacramento Police Department; the Woodland Police Department; with assistance from the Sacramento Police Department; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Vallejo Police Department; U.S. Customs & Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO); Yolo County Narcotics Enforcement Team; the Western States Information Network Inc., and the California Highway Patrol. Assistant United States Attorney Christiaan Highsmith is prosecuting the case.

If convicted, the defendants face maximum statutory penalties for the various charges as follows: the penalty for each count of conspiracy and each count of dealing firearms or manufacturing firearms without a license is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the penalty for each count of possessing a firearm without a serial number and each count of possessing an unregistered short-barreled rifle or silencer is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Press Release Number: 
2:15-cr-209 JAM
Updated October 16, 2015