Crime - Sacto 911

Former deputy, gun dealer sentenced for illegal weapons deals

A former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy and a Sacramento firearms dealer have been sentenced to prison in a case involving illegal firearms sales.

Former deptuy Ryan McGowan, 34, of Elk Grove, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay a $7,000 fine for dealing firearms without a license and conspiracy to make a false statement on a firearms record, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office news release.

Robert Snellings, 64, of Rancho Murieta, McGowan’s co-defendant and a former federal firearms licensee, was sentenced last week to one year in prison. The two men were convicted last year following a jury trial.

Under state law, California has an approved roster of firearms that may be sold to the public. A federal firearms licensee is required to make sure any handgun sold is on the approved roster. There is an exemption for peace officers to purchase certain firearms known as “off-roster” firearms. Peace officers who own off-roster firearms may sell them in a private sale, as long as it is brokered by a federal firearms licensee. But they may not use these private sales to conduct a business in which the principal objective is livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, authorities said.

According to evidence presented during the trial, McGowan used his position as a deputy sheriff to purchase off-roster guns at retail price. Then, because the firearms could not be purchased directly by the general public, he resold them at an inflated price on the private market in California. From 2008 to 2011, McGowan purchased 41 handguns and sold 25 of them within a year after purchase. Thirty-three of the guns were purchased through Snellings Firearms, which was owned by Robert Snellings. Some of those weapons were transferred back to Sneilings personally, allowing Snellings to own the weapons himself or sell them to the public.

Both men were found guilty of conspiracies to make false statements in federal firearms records. To circumvent the restrictions on purchasing off-roster firearms, they falsely stated on ATF forms that a police officer was the actual purchaser when the actual purchaser of the off-roster handgun was intended to be a non-officer, who was not permitted to buy the gun. McGowan and other officers, therefore, were acting as straw purchasers, who then transferred the handguns to the real purchasers within a short period of time.

When charges in the case were announced 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 County sheriff’s deputy. The two police officers were allowed to resign and never faced charges. Federal authorities gave them immunity in return for the cooperation against the other suspects.

The second deputy, Thomas Lu, cooperated with prosecutors and pleaded guilty as part of an agreement to testify against McGowan and Snellings.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy