Luis Cortez-Garcia, 44, and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia, 37, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Sacramento on multiple charges of unlawful manufacturing and sales of firearms including short-barreled rifles, machine guns, and silencers. Emiliano Cortez-Garcia is also charged with being a felon in possession of firearms.
Attorney Danny Brace Jr., who represents Luis Cortez-Garcia, said both men thought they were acting legally. Both are being held by immigration authorities on allegations that they were living in the country illegally.
Brace and federal firearms officials agreed that the men were selling firearms parts that under some circumstances can be legally owned and assembled into working firearms by individuals, so long as they aren't sold or transferred to others. Unlike fully assembled weapons sold through dealers, the assembled parts do not contain serial numbers and are not registered with authorities.
The federal charges allege that the men allowed individuals to buy the parts and turn them into illegal weapons in assembly-line fashion using affiliated machine shops. U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents said the weapons were then sold for as much as $2,000 in cash, with higher prices charged to individuals with criminal histories or who were otherwise not allowed to own firearms.
"Somebody can build their own gun," said Brace. "That's what he and his brother, in different locations, thought they were doing legally. The government says they crossed the line."
Search warrants unsealed Thursday show firearms agents raided 11 locations in October in Sacramento, West Sacramento, Antelope, Auburn, Ione, Placerville, and Fresno, seizing 345 guns, including multiple fully automatic assault rifles, illegal short-barreled rifles, and silencers. Authorities said undercover agents and at least one convicted felon previously purchased nearly three-dozen made-to-order assault weapons from the brothers and their associates.
"Imagine a shooting where you recover this at a crime scene as a law enforcement officer, the challenges that you are going to face where you have a gun with no markings, no serial number, and no idea where it came from," said Joseph Riehl, the ATF special agent in charge for Northern California. "These firearms are completely untraceable."
State Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, has proposed a bill that would make such weapons illegal under state law.
SB808 would require makers of homemade weapons to apply to the state Department of Justice for a serial number that would be given only after the applicants undergo a background check, the same as any other gun-buyer. The number would have to be etched on the weapon within one day of its manufacture.
The bill would address most of the issues outlined in the federal investigation, said Stephen Lindley, chief of the California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms, who joined federal officials at a news conference announcing the indictments as part of an ongoing investigation.
"We want to at least try to address that in California," Lindley said, though he said Attorney General Kamala Harris has not taken a formal position supporting de Leon's bill.