Former Pasadena police Lieutenant Vasken Kenneth Gourdikian, 50, was sentenced to one year and one day in a Southern California prison and fined $10,000 during a Los Angeles federal court sentencing hearing Monday after he pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession and selling firearms without a license.
The sentence by U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson brings to an end to a three-year-old case which shook the Pasadena Police Department and may have prompted the early retirement of former Police Chief Phillip Sanchez.
Wilson said the penalty was sufficient and not greater than necessary. “It is more than adequate to serve as a deterrent to others,” the judge said from the bench.
Judge Wilson said he didn’t find credible Gourdikian’s claims of being “a hobbyist who got out of control.” In imposing the prison sentence, Judge Wilson noted, “This was a way for him to make money.”
The Judge dismissed two other counts against Gourdikian. He further allowed Gourdikian to begin serving prison time in June, allowing Gourdikian to attend his son’s school graduation in May.
The courtroom was packed with dozens of family members and friends.
As part of the hearing, Gourdikian was permitted to read a statement.
He said, in part, “I find myself before this court in a predicament, your honor, a predicament that I placed myself in because of the crimes that I committed.”
“I lost my way, your honor,” he continued. “I can only pray that my body of work over the past two decades will somehow not be overshadowed by my recent transgressions… I cannot go backwards, your honor. And I cannot make excuses.”
Gourdikian was almost unrecognizable. Pasadena Now Community editor Eddie Rivera said Gourdikian was “ashen” and looked “crumpled, like at a funeral.”
Reacting to the sentencing, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell issued a statement which said the City had fully cooperated with federal investigators during the investigation leading to Gourdikian’s guilty plea.
Mermell also pointed out that “the actions of one former employee are not indicative of the dedicated men and women of the Pasadena Police Department.”
The sentencing came as the final chapter of a plea agreement to two federal felony offenses related to the illegal sales of more than 100 firearms over the course of three years.
As part of the plea agreement, Gourdikian has waived his right to appeal today’s sentence.
Gourdikian resigned from the Pasadena Police Department in March 2018, after a 26-year career. He was suspended with pay for six months prior to being indicted, earning $191,000 during the suspension. He is still eligible for a Police Department pension.
According to the plea agreement, Gourdikian admitted to selling at least 108 firearms without a license from March 2014 through February 2017, while serving as a Pasadena Police Officer.
Gourdikian also acknowledged to Judge Wilson during the 2018 plea agreement hearing that he used his official status as a police officer to purchase firearms that were not available to the general public, and then sold the 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 admitted 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 a Justice Department statement.
Gourdikian used numerous waiver letters signed by former Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez, to bypass a state waiting period. Prosecutors point to one such case which occurred on May 23, 2015, when 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 Sanchez’s successor, 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 the 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 earlier.
“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.