LOS ANGELES (CBS/AP) Federal officials arrested three former Marines suspected of selling illegal assault weapons to an infamous Los Angeles street gang, authorities said Tuesday.
Federal agents arrested Iraq war veteran and alleged ringleader Adam Gitschlag at his Orange Country home last week, for his role in selling firearms to a member of the Florencia 13 gang, among others.
Former Marines Jose Smith Pacheco, 31, of Montebello and Miguel A. Ortiz, 49, of Northridge, were arrested Monday along with 33-year-old Edwin Cano and 32-year-old Christopher John Thomas.
The operation was carried out by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE), along with local police and military investigators.
According to investigative documents, Gitschlag managed the sale of two cases of firearms, which contained an AK-47, two Russian and Romanian alternatives of the weapon and two other semiautomatic rifles.
California law states that it is illegal to own or sell unregistered assault weapons.
Gitschlag and another former Marine allegedly met with a Florencia 13 street gang member, a postal service supervisor, and other associates in the parking lot of a Pasadena post office June 23 and reportedly sold them the weapons for $6,000, according to the ATFE.
Gitschlag was unaware that one of the men in the group was secretly working as a government informant and when the informant asked if Gitschlag would be willing to sell more firearms to other gang members in front of the F-13 gang member, he agreed, according to a search warrant affidavit.
All five defendants are charged with five counts each of having unlawful assault weapons. Cano faces additional counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Neighbors stood in shock as authorities reportedly seized more than 20 handguns, 45 rifles and shotguns and 4,000 rounds of ammunition from Gitschlag's house last week. Investigators are still trying to find out where Gitschlag's guns came from, though some were purchased at gun shows in Arizona, said ATF spokesman Chris Hoffman.
Gitschlag disputes the charges against him, claiming that they are "definitely untrue," and that he is a private weapons collector and patriot who has worked hard to serve his country.
"I did not sell any gang members any weapons," he said. "I love my country with all my heart. I would never expect my government to do this."
The arrests were announced just a week after a Navy SEAL in San Diego and two others were charged with smuggling machine guns from Iraq for sale on the black market.