Vasken Gourdikian could be sentenced anywhere from 15 months to 15 years; Judge ‘not obliged’ to follow sentencing recommendations.
Published : Friday, September 21, 2018 | 5:14 AM
Former Pasadena Police Lieutenant and Public Information Officer Vasken Kenneth Gourdikian, 48, of Sierra Madre, appeared in U.S. District Court Thursday to formally plead guilty to two federal felony offenses, as part of a plea deal related to the illegal sale of more than 100 firearms over the course of three years.
Gourdikian resigned from the Pasadena Police Department in March after a 22-year career.
Dressed in a dark blue business suit and speaking in a clear voice, Gourdikian pled guilty to two felony counts—dealing in firearms without a license, and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.
The prosecution has recommended a prison term of 30 months followed by a 3-year term of supervised release, plus fines and assessment fees and the forfeiture of 68 firearms, although Gourdikian faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison from both counts with $500,00 in fines.
U.S. District Court Judge Steven V. Wilson said, during the hearing, that he was “not obliged” to follow the recommended sentence of the prosecution but will consider the sentencing guidelines.
As part of the plea agreement, Gourdikian waived his right to appeal whatever sentence is eventually handed down.
Gourdikian will return to the court on February 4, 2019, to be formally sentenced.
According to a Department of Justice statement, Gourdikian sold at least 108 firearms without a license from March 2014 through February 2017, while serving as a Pasadena Police Officer.
Gourdikian acknowledged to Judge Wilson that he used his official status as a police officer to purchase firearms that were not available to the general public, and then sold restricted firearms, known as “off roster” firearms, through third-party transfers to members of the public, via an online gun market, called CalGuns.net.
Gourdikian also acknowledged that he would often “highlight the unique status of off roster firearms in order to solicit a buyer’s interest and to generate higher sale prices,” according to the Justice Department statement.
“Many of the firearms that defendant sold were “off roster” firearms, that is, firearms that defendant’s non-law enforcement customers could not have purchased directly from a licensed firearms dealer,” Gourdikian, a 22-year Pasadena police veteran, admitted.
Among other methods, Gourdikian used numerous waiver letters signed by former Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, to bypass a state waiting period. On May 23, 2015, Gourdikian bought eight guns from a gun shop in Brea, and then immediately posted them online. When he picked up the guns from the shop, he signed a form saying that he was the buyer, when in fact, he had already agreed to sell the weapons to online buyers.
The practice of providing waiver letters for Pasadena police offices has since been suspended by Interim Police Chief John Perez.
Specifically, Gourdikian signed an ATF “re-certification” form when he took possession of a handgun, and admitted in the plea agreement that he “misrepresented that he was the actual buyer of a firearm when, in fact, and as defendant then well knew, he was purchasing the firearm for another individual.” Gourdikian admitted that he re-sold the gun to another person on the same day he acquired it from the gun dealer.
While police officers were not prohibited from selling “off roster” firearms to members of the general public, Gourdikian “made a business of dealing firearms without a license, in part, by abusing exemptions made available to him under California law as a sworn peace officer,” he admitted in the plea agreement.
Gourdikian further admitted to Judge Wilson that he “capitalized on his peace officer status” that allowed him to circumvent the usual 10-day waiting period and enabled him to purchase more than one handgun in a 30-day period.
“Mr. Gourdikian used his position as a law enforcement officer to purchase firearms generally not available to the public so he could turn around and illegally sell them for profit,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna.
“His actions clearly violated federal law and introduced unauthorized firearms into the community. By his participating in these illegal acts, Gourdikian compromised public safety and violated the public’s trust.”
“It is ATF’s duty and obligation to conduct criminal investigations whenever presented with credible evidence of violations of federal firearms laws,” said ATF Los Angeles Field Division (LAFD) Special Agent in Charge Bill McMullan.
“Through analysis conducted by ATF’s Crime Gun Intelligence Center, it was discovered that one of the firearms sold by Gourdikian was recovered at a crime scene two months after its purchase, increasing the risk to the public and law enforcement personnel. ATF’s mission is to focus our efforts on firearms traffickers and trigger pullers and we will continue to pursue individuals engaged in this type of illegal activity.”
The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Elisa Fernandez of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Jennifer Chou of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.
Gourdikian refused to comment following the hearing, leaving the Downtown LA courtroom quickly with friends and family.