Crime - Sacto 911

Ex-deputy, gun dealer convicted of illegal weapons deals

Former Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Ryan McGowan was convicted Thursday in a federal gun sales case.
Former Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Ryan McGowan was convicted Thursday in a federal gun sales case. Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department

A former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy and a federally licensed firearms dealer were found guilty Thursday of illegal weapons sales and conspiracy to falsify records in a case that rocked the sheriff’s office and two area police departments, with officers targeted by undercover federal agents.

Ryan McGowan, 34, of Elk Grove, was found guilty on one count of dealing in firearms without a license and one count of conspiring to falsify firearms records in a case that led to his resignation as a deputy in 2012. His co-defendant, Sacramento firearms dealer Robert Snellings Jr., 64, was found guilty on five counts of conspiring to cook the books on transactions at his gun shop.

Sentencing for both was set for Aug. 27. Snellings could face up to five years in prison on each conspiracy count and McGowan could face up to 10 years for dealing firearms without a license and five on the conspiracy count.

Defense lawyers Chris Cosca for McGowan and Pat Hanly for Snellings declined to comment after the verdict.

The jury of six women and six men deliberated four hours and delivered its verdict in Sacramento federal court at 2:30 p.m., concluding a nine-day trial that was a reprise of a 15-day trial in the same court last year. That case ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Another defendant in that trial was acquitted.

The trial was the third overall in connection with the investigation. In a Sacramento Superior Court trial, a jury found McGowan guilty of possessing an illegal shotgun and providing a large-capacity ammunition magazine to an undercover agent. That conviction could have netted McGowan nearly four years in prison; online court records show he served 30 days on the sheriff’s work crew.

Thursday’s verdict came after federal prosecutors produced evidence they said showed that McGowan used his position as a deputy to purchase weapons not generally available to the public and resold them at a profit. Prosecutors also contended the evidence showed Snellings was conspiring with McGowan, helping the ex-deputy purchase 33 weapons through his business.

“When law enforcement officers misuse their badges to funnel dangerous weapons to the highest bidder. they compromise the safety of the public,” U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said after the verdict. “By putting personal profit ahead of public safety, they undermine the very essence of their duty.”

At the time charges were announced in the case in 2012, authorities described a wide-ranging conspiracy that involved three other officers, one each from the Sacramento and Roseville police departments and another Sacramento sheriff's deputy.

The two police officers were allowed to resign and never faced charges. Federal authorities gave them immunity in return for their cooperation against other suspects.

The second deputy, Thomas Lu, cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty in his first court appearance as part of an agreement to testify against McGowan, his former friend and colleague, and Snellings. Lu testified last year against the defendants in the trial that ended without a verdict; he was not called as a witness in the trial that ended Thursday.

Denny Walsh: (916) 321-1189

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