California men who sold ghost guns plead guilty

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Two Southern California men who operated an unlicensed business that made and sold ghost guns have pleaded guilty to a federal charge, authorities said Friday.

Travis Schlotterbeck, 37, of Fountain Valley and James Bradley Vlha, 29, of Norco admitted that they took custom orders for AR-15-type firearms in pistol and rifle variants, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California. The privately made firearms lack serial numbers and cannot be traced.

“The scheme was based at two Bellflower businesses controlled by Schlotterbeck called Sign Imaging and Live Fire Coatings,” prosecutors said. “Neither the businesses nor the defendants had a federal firearms license to engage in the manufacture or sale of firearms.”

The men, who had been scheduled to go on trial next week, each pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of conspiracy to engage in the business of manufacturing and dealing in firearms without a license, prosecutors said. Schlotterbeck also pleaded guilty to one count of selling a firearm to a convicted felon after he sold an AR-15-type rifle to a confidential informant while being aware that the person was previously convicted of a felony, prosecutors said.

According to court documents, Schlotterbeck and Vlha manufactured and sold the guns, which were capable of accepting high-capacity magazines, to undercover agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“The defendants obtained the firearm parts, arranged for certain parts — including unfinished lower receivers often called ‘80% lowers’ — to be machined for use in building completed firearms, and assembled and finished the firearms for sale without any serial numbers or manufacturer markings,” prosecutors said.

The scheme lasted from 2015 through 2017. Schlotterbeck and Vhla sold six of the ghost guns to ATF undercover agents and a confidential informant, prosecutors said. They charged $1,500 to $2,000 per gun.

Both men were charged in a federal grand jury indictment filed in 2019, prosecutors said. They are scheduled for sentencing Nov. 17.

Schlotterbeck and Vhla each face up to five years in federal prison on the conspiracy count, and Schlotterbeck faces up to 10 years in prison for selling a firearm to a convicted felon, prosecutors said.

Attorneys for the two men could not be reached for comment Friday.



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