[Updated] Bringing 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, former Pasadena Police Lieutenant and Public Information Officer Vasken Kenneth Gourdikian, 48, of Sierra Madre, is scheduled to be sentenced on felony firearms charges as early as this week in U.S. District Court.
The sentencing would bring come as the 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.
Although Gourdikian faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison from both counts with $500,00 in fines, 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.
U.S. District Court Judge Steven V. Wilson said during the plea agreement hearing in August 2018 that he was “not obliged” to follow the recommended sentence of the prosecution, but would consider the sentencing guidelines.
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 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. Prosecutorss 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 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.