Crime - Sacto 911

Feds arrest two Sacramento men on black-market gun charges

Federal authorities have arrested two Sacramento men in an investigation into the illegal manufacture and sale of 17 assault rifles and the sale of three other commercially manufactured handguns.

James Jordan Smallwood, 25, and his uncle, John Henry Smallwood, 45, were taken into custody on Wednesday following searches of their respective homes in North Natomas.

The complaint accuses the two men of unlawfully dealing in firearms, possession of unregistered firearms, unlawfully transferring firearms, possession of firearms without serial numbers, and transporting and delivering unregistered firearms. They face a maximum prison term of 10 years if they are convicted on all counts.

Both men had been held without bail, but at a detention hearing on Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire ordered them both released on unsecured $100,000 bonds. The judge said she was “uncomfortable” in keeping them detained due to their lack of criminal histories.

Claire also acknowledged their potential for danger: “There are a lot of firearms in this case,” she said.

Neither of the defendants is a licensed federal firearms dealer, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in the case.

According to the affidavit, James Smallwood made eight deliveries to an undercover agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives between Sept. 28 and Feb. 9. The affidavit says the undercover agent paid Smallwood a total of $32,600 for the guns.

The transactions are the latest made public in a thriving black market of bootleg AR-15-type assault rifles. They are fairly easily assembled by obtaining various gun parts and attaching them to the frame of the weapon, called a receiver. Such weapons are legal to make and own, but illegal to distribute. Still, federal officials have been seizing them by the dozens over the past two years in the Sacramento area, including the 17 in this most recent undercover operation.

“Firearms made from unfinished receivers pose a threat to public safety and ATF will work with its law enforcement partners to stop the illegal manufacturing and distribution of these untraceable firearms,” said Grahame Barlowe, the resident agent in charge of the Sacramento ATF office.

In the Smallwood case, agents said it was a Craigslist advertisement that tipped them off to what they described as the illegal gun distribution operation. In checking out the ad, the agents came in contact with James Smallwood, who directed an undercover officer to a Del Taco fast food restaurant where he sold him a Mossberg 715T semi-automatic rifle for $1,000, according to the affidavit. It wasn’t until the third transaction that Smallwood sold the agent an AR-15-style weapon, the affidavit said.

Most of the transactions were made outside the Burlington Coat Factory off Truxel Road in North Natomas, the affidavit said, with the undercover agent delivering the money in exchange for the guns.

At one point, James Smallwood told the agent “that the firearms were coming from Nevada,” the affidavit said.

Sacramento County and federal court records do not show any previous court cases on either of the Smallwoods. The search warrant affidavit, however, says that James Smallwood was arrested in 2007 and that he listed John Smallwood as his next of kin at his uncle’s address on Elderdown Way. The search warrant for James Smallwood was for a house he was staying at on nearby Logansport Way in North Natomas.

At Friday’s detention hearing, James Smallwood’s attorney, Assistant Federal Defender Rachelle Barbour, said her client works nights as a certified nursing assistant. Barbour said Smallwood would be living with his grandmother pending the trial. Both he and his uncle were placed on home detention by the judge. John Smallwood is unemployed, according to his attorney, Olaf Hedberg.

In allowing them to post bonds, Judge Claire also ordered that the two had to clean out their houses of any legal firearms they had on the premises.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

Related stories from Sacramento Bee