Search Warrant: Gun Stores “Helping” Build 80% Lowers Deemed Illegal

[UPDATE: 3/18 11:38 PM] I have just spoken with Dimitri at Ares Armor, and he has confirmed that the raid was over polymer lower receivers and their unique method of manufacturing and not related to build parties as speculated in this article. So while this article still describes an active ATF investigation related to 80% lowers, it appears to be unrelated to Ares Armor. The article has been updated to reflect this new information.

The Ares Armor case is interesting, but another investigation relating to 80% lower receivers involves some of the sketchiest gun stores I have ever heard of. Take a peek . . .

An 80% lower is, in a legal sense, just a hunk of metal. It’s not a complete firearm, so it isn’t treated like one. It’s no more a firearm than a block of marble is a work of art by Michelangelo. But it has enough of the rough dimensions of an AR-15 lower receiver that finishing the project and turning it into a functional gun is almost trivial — drill a couple of holes, mill a few locations, and presto, you have yourself a gun.

Manufacturing 80% lower receivers isn’t illegal. You can even ship them anywhere you want to whomever you want, since, again, it’s just a hunk of metal and not technically a gun. But manufacturing firearms for sale to the public without a license is a HUGE no-no. And if the affadavit for the search warrant is accurate, then that’s exactly what some people in California were doing.

To be clear, the following describes activities of people who are NOT Ares Armor. Specifically, the following details the business practices of LCG AR Part and Custom Accessories in California. But it gives some insight into what the ATF thinks was going down in Ares Armor’s back room.

On March 19, 2013, an undercover law enforcement officer (“UC#1”) visited LCG AR Parts and Custom Accessories (“LCG”) [ED: NOT Ares Armor], located at 8524 Florin Road, Sacramento (Attachment A-1). LCG is a small gun parts store located within a larger commercial plaster retail store. At LCG, UC#1 was met by MICHAEL TURNER. UC#1 asked TURNER about firearms. TURNER informed UC#1 that UC#1 could purchase an AR-15 blank at LCG and “mill it out” in the back of the shop the same day – essentially creating a firearm from scratch.

[…]

On April 3, 2013, UC#1 met TURNER at LCG. UC#1 removed an AR-15-style pistol off the display wall of LCG and explained that he wanted to model the pistol after the one on display. TURNER handed UC#1 an AR-15 blank that was made of aluminum. UC#1 asked how long it takes to make the AR-15 blank into a firearm. TURNER informed UC#1 that such a firearm could be made in about two hours. TURNER informed UC#1 that UC#1 would drill five holes and then “Jimmy” would “clean it up.” TURNER is pictured below in a screenshot from the video recorded by UC#1.

TURNER identified “Jimmy” (individual later identified as EMILIANO CORTEZ) and indicated UC#1 should follow EMILIANO CORTEZ. EMILIANO CORTEZ and TURNER guided UC#1 out of the firearm shop (located within the plastering business) towards the back of the business. Upon arriving at the rear of the business, TURNER told UC#1 that EMILIANO CORTEZ was going to set the AR-15 blank into a “jig.”

TURNER informed UC#1 that UC#1 would have to drill five holes in the AR-15 blank, and then EMILIANO CORTEZ would mill the remainder to complete the receiver. UC#1 was directed to use a drill press and instructed how to operate the drill press – in essence, UC#1 was operating the drill press as a surrogate for EMILIANO CORTEZ – EMILIANO CORTEZ directed each and every move made by UC#1. EMILIANO CORTEZ would motion to the UC#1 when to stop and reposition the AR-15 blank. Subsequently, TURNER took UC#1 back to the front of LCG and informed UC#1 that EMILIANO CORTEZ would finish the receiver within the next hour and a half.

[…]

According to the Department of Homeland Security, EMILIANO CORTEZ is a Mexican national who has previously been deported and is illegally present within the United States. Further, EMILIANO CORTEZ is a convicted felon. In 2010, in Nevada County, California, EMILIANO CORTEZ was convicted of possession of an assault weapon and sentenced to sixteen months in prison.

[…]

Several minutes later, CI#1 departed from LCG in possession of an AR-15 pistol, two boxes of ammunition, and a large-capacity magazine. At no point was CI#1 required to fill out a background check form or complete any paperwork that is required by ATF prior to the purchase of a firearm.

I’m gonna be honest — this doesn’t sound good for those involved.

So from the documents, it looks like these guys (LCG AR Parts and Custom Accessories, or “LCG”) employed an illegal Mexican immigrant who’s also a felon to assist customers in manufacturing firearms on the business’s premises. The employee in question allegedly would set the blank up in the drill press, instruct the customer in drilling out the holes, then then take it from there.

Around the time of the investigation, the ATF issued a response to Ares Armor’s request for clarification about the same practice — “assisting” others in milling out their 80% lower receivers. And according to the ATF, a federal firearms license is required for “a business premises at which, for a fee, it makes available a computer numeric control (CNC) machine, tools, equipment, and instructions to persons who bring in castings or raw materials for the purpose of creating firearms.” In short, what was happening in the back of LCG’s shop was, according to the ATF, illegal.

After the clarification was issued, LGS seems to have had an “OH SHIT” moment and tried to clean up its act. Tried.

On April 25, 2013, CI#1 visited LCG and purchased two AR-15 blanks from LUIS CORTEZ. CI#1 inquired about converting the AR-15 blanks into firearms. TURNER advised CI#1 that they [LCG] were no longer going to machine and drill AR-15 blanks into completed lower receivers and that CI#1 was going to have to do it. TURNER continued that this change was because of a “DOJ” announcement stating that it was illegal for them to show customers how to do the machining and drilling and be paid for it.

[…]

When CI#1 approached LUIS CORTEZ about the information provided by TURNER, LUIS CORTEZ advised that his brother (EMILIANO CORTEZ) was afraid to touch “the machine” (referring to the machine used to mill the AR-15 blanks). LUIS CORTEZ informed CI#1 that numerous customers had been calling and LUIS CORTEZ had informed them that he no longer did “it” anymore (referring to the machining and drilling of AR-15 blanks).

I’ll spare you the gory details, but after the letter came out it looks like LCG started putting people in touch with third parties who performed the same service that had previously been done on-site. People whom the adjective “sketchy” doesn’t begin to describe.

DOCUMENT: Indictment

DOCUMENT: Search Warrant Affadavit

In short, these guys are royally screwed. And they know it.

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