SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Eight men were charged Thursday with making and distributing dozens of firearms, many of them assault-style weapons illegally equipped with silencers, in what federal officials are calling one of the biggest takedowns in California's Central Valley.
Undercover agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives purchased or seized more than 230 firearms and silencers. Many are known as "ghost guns" because they lack serial numbers and can be sold without background checks or transfer documents.
"Firearms trafficking such as that alleged in this indictment is one of the primary sources of crime guns found on the streets, and the manufacture of untraceable, unserialized firearms hampers criminal investigations, putting the public at greater risk," U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said at a news conference. "High-capacity assault rifles, with silencers but without serial numbers, are some of the most lethal weapons that criminals can get their hands on."
The charges include dealing in firearms without a license, unlawfully manufacturing firearms, possession of silencers, short-barreled rifles and firearms lacking serial numbers, and conspiracy. Three of the eight face separate drug charges, which Wagner said shows a connection between gun and narcotics trafficking.
Among those named in the 70-count indictment David Bennett, 27, a former probationary correctional officer with the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department.
Bennett and his brother are charged with conspiring to make and deal unlicensed firearms from their Stockton home. His attorney, Michael Long, did not immediately return messages.
Steven Plesser, attorney for his 39-year-old brother, Daniel Bennett, said his client is charged with using his drill press to machine the parts that were then assembled into weapons.
"He seems to have been the man with the tool that was needed," Plesser said. "It seems like the other people were doing the sales."
The brothers live in different homes on the same property in Stockton, he said.
Joseph Latu, 29, of Elk Grove, Charles Tucker, 29, of Stockton, and Ionel Pascan, 28, of Riverbank, were arrested last week as they prepared to sell 50 unmarked short-barreled assault-style weapons and 50 silencers to undercover agents at the Yolo County Airport in Davis, authorities said.
Their attorneys did not immediately return telephone messages.
Wagner said the group ramped up its manufacture of the weapons after undercover agents first contacted them in February. Handguns were also purchased or seized. Wagner said he can't recall as many guns being seized in one operation in his 20 years as a federal prosecutor.