Federal agents have broken the back of a gang in the greater Sacramento area allegedly engaged in illegal and large-scale firearms trafficking and manufacturing.
Between Feb. 6 and Sept. 28, undercover law enforcement officers paid members of the gang at least $150,000 for 16 commercially manufactured firearms, 47 unlawfully manufactured firearms, and 37 unlawfully manufactured silencers, according to papers on file in Sacramento federal court.
The sting operation has thus far yielded six arrests. Joseph Latu, Algernon Tamasoa, John Ortiz, Charles Tucker, Ionel Pascan and Keith White made initial court appearances Wednesday before a federal magistrate judge. They will eventually be indicted and arraigned.
They are charged in a criminal complaint filed under seal Monday with dealing in firearms without a license, unlawful manufacture of a firearm, possession of a firearm lacking a serial number and conspiring to commit the crimes. They are also charged with distributing Ecstasy, based on sales of the illicit drug to the undercover officers as a bonus.
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Firearms agents also sought warrants to search the residences of Latu, Tucker, Pascan and White in Sacramento, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Solano counties. They also sought a search warrant for the San Joaquin County home and work lockers of David Bennett, a correctional officer in the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department.
While Bennett has not been charged, agents say in court papers that their investigation has tied him to the gang and has established that “Bennett engaged in the illegal manufacture and distribution of firearms.”
The first buy, on Feb. 6, was arranged by an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives working undercover through an intermediary, according to an account of the meeting in court papers. The agent met in the 7400 block of Troon Way in Sacramento with Latu and his cousin Tamasoa, using the names “Joe” and “Archie,” respectively. Tamasoa handed a Norinco SKS Sporter rifle to the agent, who asked if it was fully automatic, and Tamasoa confirmed that it was.
Tamasoa told the agent he was able to get firearms by the crate, court papers say. The agent gave Latu his telephone number for future use and paid Latu $2,200 for the rifle.
Three days later, the agent met Latu and Tamasoa at an In-N-Out restaurant in West Sacramento, according to the court papers. Tamasoa removed a bag from the trunk of his black Lexus and placed it in the trunk of the car the agent was driving. The agent opened the bag and saw that it contained an Olympic Arms rifle and an Israel Military Desert Eagle pistol, as well as numerous magazines and ammunition of various calibers. The agent paid Latu $5,500.
The agent said he was looking for a consistent source of firearms, and Latu assured him he had come to dealers who could consistently supply the agent. That proved to be the case.
Later, the gang started selling guns its members made to undercover officers.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189