INTERVIEW WITH DARYL MCCRARY


Special Agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and a decorated Gulf War veteran. He works undercover purchasing illegal firearms.

Q: Describe to me what would we find in terms of arms on the streets of the Inland Empire, this area east of L.A. What's out there?

"I see a lot of cheap handguns on the street.....the cheaper it is the easier it is to get. If..you're in some type of criminal activity, you don't want to spend all your money on your arson. You want to save that for the good times, the nicer things...." McCrary: You may find anything from machine guns and in a variety of different shapes and sizes, exotic weapons, military weapons, small arms, even smaller handguns, semi-automatic weapons, automatic weapons, some destructive devices, whether they be military or improvised. A multitude of anything you can imagine, you're going to find in the Inland Empire.

Q: What is the Inland Empire like?

McCrary: The streets of the Inland Empire on any given day will support any variety of crime, and extremely violent crimes. At one time, Los Angeles, if not still, led the nation in the number of bank robberies. A portion of those bank robberies have been proven to have been done by gangs...The Inland Empire, geographically, is just a portion east of Los Angeles, where we have a variety of different smaller cities, that are formed along these major thoroughfares, being the 10 freeway, the 91 freeway, the different highways that connect east to west.

Q: What are the illegal guns that people want?

McCrary: That depends on the criminal, and on what he intends on doing with that weapon. Some criminals like smaller handguns...some like larger weapons, military-type weapons, that cause a great deal of damage. This is...in some cases, due, for intimidation purposes.

Q: What do you see the most of?

McCrary: I've seen pretty much everything, from machine guns to two-shot derringers, to high-capacity, you know, sixteen-plus round handguns. Thirty round drum that guns street-sweepers. Anything you can name...that are often seen in the movies, explosives with the guns...Anything you can think of I've seen it in the Inland Empire.

Q: Why would someone buy a gun illegally?

McCrary: Because they couldn't buy it legally. They have certain restrictions, they've been arrested, they've been convicted of a crime, adjudicated a mental defective, they have specifically been told that you cannot purchase this gun yourself due to a variety of different legal issues.

Q: And...how hard is it to get a gun, illegally?

McCrary: Not hard at all. It's in some cases, easier than going to the store [and] buying a drink, buying a magazine.

Q: How important is the issue that these guns are not traceable?

McCrary: A very huge issue - that the gun not be traceable. The gun being purchased for illegal activity...if the person drops that gun, they want to know that that gun has no way of being connected to them...so that is a key issue...and maybe one of the first things that a person buying a gun wants to know..."Will this gun come back to me?"...

Q: Are they interested to know if the gun had a body on it? What does that mean?

McCrary: The expression the gun had 'a body on it' means that a person has been shot with this weapon.... that a person has been killed with this weapon. And that brings about a certain level of cautiousness to the buyer or to a certain mystique that hey, you know, this gun works.

Q: What is a Saturday Night Special?

McCrary: A Saturday Night Special is a term that's given [to] a gun that alludes to the fact that this is a hot, quick, illegal weapon. It is a term that probably has its origins back in, maybe, the late 60's or early 70's. Associate with it a person being able to go out on a Saturday night, and you know, being able to pick up a quick gun on a corner. But it alludes to simply the fact that this is a small, cheap, inexpensive handgun, at times, or it may mean that this is a good handgun but it's possibly illegal.

Q: Do you see a lot of handguns on the street, and why?

McCrary: I see a lot of cheap handguns on the street, and the reason for it, as an opinion from a guy who works the streets, [is that] the cheaper it is, the more accessible it is. The easier it is to get. If you're going out, and you're in some type of criminal activity, you don't want to spend up all you funds, your money, your bounty, if you will, on your arson. You want to save that for the good times, or, the nicer things...the big cars, the expensive clothes.

Q: How do you go out onto the streets, and effectively present yourself to these gangs as someone that they can trust...

McCrary: A lot of your success lies with your ability to assimilate different personas, and your ability to adapt to changing environments. And being in the military helped me to do that because, being overseas, where you're associating with different cultures, it's far easier to assimilate into those cultures than it is to say, rebel against and be an American in a foreign country... Now you have to go over and adapt to the local customs and traditions, and that makes assimilating into normal everyday life a lot easier.

So when I go out into these neighborhoods or on the street to do an undercover, I keep it simple...And there is a certain amount of acting, but to be yourself, and simply yourself, is the easiest thing that you're going to be able to do. You're not going to go in, if you're not a gang member, and start talking to a gang member, as if you are a gang member. This is what they do day in and day out..They know very quickly if you seem out of place. Gang members have extensive criminal backgrounds, they have extensive contacts with the police, they're used to police. In some cases, they're used to or have had undercover situations perpetrated against them in the past. You've got to take that into consideration. And they get a little smarter each time something happens to 'em.

Q: What did the stolen guns tell you when you first got them back...

McCrary: When we got these guns back, the first guns we'd purchased, and we attempted to trace them, and that's what it was - an attempt - we found out a few very key things that we hadn't seen up to that time...One of those is that the gun was not in the system as being stolen. And another key factor was that the gun was not in the system as ever being purchased. And, when we saw those two things, it made us wonder - 'well, you know, it hasn't been stolen, it hasn't been purchased - where did this gun come from?' I'm sure nobody's seen, or it's been very rare, that you've got a gun that's kinda in limbo between these two different facts. So, instantly we thought well, you know this is new for [South] Riverside, of the Inland Empire. This is a virtual unknown quantity. This is untraceable, pretty much. So, that led us into trying to purchase more guns to try to put those pieces of the puzzle together.

Q: Describe the conversation you had with the dealer before purchasing the stolen guns.

McCrary: A conversation I had with one of the subjects during the investigation, while I was undercover, was for the purchase of $10,000 worth of guns. And the ease in which he talked about being able to acquire these guns, and give them to me pretty much on a weekly basis, I just thought, you now, we have stumbled onto something very large

Q: How was Mendoza -- the gun trafficker -- getting these stolen guns?

McCrary: Mendoza worked at a gun manufacturer that was located in the county of Riverside. No more than fifteen minutes from where he lived. And after the case was over, we did find out that basically his position afforded him the opportunity to have access to these guns...In order to do his job, he had to come in very early in the morning, often an hour and a half before anybody else was around. And he had access to the building, and through that access, being there in the morning, oftentimes alone, or with his accomplice, he was able to just kind of have carte blanche. These guns happened to be stored in a variety of different rooms, and he was able just to go in, they were stored in a room that just the door was locked, and he was able to slip the door in, and that is to take a card and slip it between the door jam and the lock and, you know, get the door open, go in, get the guns, put 'em in his car, and continue on with his day's work.

Q: What did the vaults look like?

McCrary: The 'vaults' were no more than normal rooms with normal doors, and normal locking mechanisms. They weren't 'vaults' in the true sense of the word. It was a simple door - with a simple lock on it. And the room was a very simple room. That was 'the vault.'...To be able to have this type of access is something that in my experience has been - and I have never done a case like this before - but I think in any person's normal everyday experience of dealing with a gun, you would associate a certain level of security with those guns. And, it was not what you would think in terms of security. Sure, these guns were locked in a room, and at times were locked in the building, but oftentimes they were in a building that was unlocked and in rooms that were locked, and they were very accessible.

Q: How many guns did Jeremy Mendoza steal from Lorcin?

McCrary: Based on our audit of the gun inventory, it was probably six thousand guns, or more, that can be attributed to the theft.

Q: What does six thousand guns out on the illegal market mean to you?

McCrary: There are small armies that don't have six thousand guns. There are probably government entities who use guns in their jobs that don't have six thousand guns available. To have six thousand guns out in the illicit market is to have six thousand or more potential violent encounters on any given day. So I mean, its a nightmare in the making.

Q: You've been inside the Lorcin manufacturing plant. Describe that to me.

McCrary: When a person says 'gun manufacturer,' not having knowledge of what they do or what they look like, because guns are a controllable item you would think [there] must be a big fence around it, and maybe armed guards, or there must be some big building, or what have you. What you don't think about is a place that you would pass on the street and not even know that possibly one of the largest manufacturers of handguns in the United States was housed in these three buildings. You'd never suspect that. And that may be good in a way, because that in itself could afford a certain level of security. But for the people who do know, or for the people who are involved, such as, in this case, the workers, who knew and were stealing guns, this was cheap guns for the taking - this was a great opportunity to exploit.

Q: Describe Lorcin Engineering.

McCrary: Lorcin Engineering is one of possibly five manufacturers of handguns that are located in Southern California, in pretty close proximity. Probably within a four to five county radius. So, one of five small manufacturers. When I say small, generally when people think of handgun manufacturers, they think of your larger, more established firms, your Colts, possible Barretta, Glock, are associated with a particular type of gun. And these manufacturers are different in that they produce inexpensive guns. But, based on the volume of production and sales, they are major players in the gun industry.

Q: Lorcin guns [have] been showing very high on guns traced to crimes. Is there a connection with the fact that these guns are manufactured in the Inland Empire and the fact that they are frequently used out there?

McCrary: I really don't think there's a connection, that they're manufactured in the Inland Empire and that they wind up in the Inland Empire. I think statistics will show you that they wind up all over the United States, and in even some [other] parts of the world. They are exported to other countries. They are distributed throughout the United States. So, they're distributed from California to other states and then shipped back to California from the distributors to Federal Firearms Licensees.

Q: What did you do with the tracing list on Lorcin firearms from the National Tracing Center ?

McCrary: Early on in the investigation we decided that we were going to trace the firearms to see exactly where the firearms were coming from. At that time, we didn't know if they were being stolen from the manufacturer, if they were being stolen from a wholesaler, a gun shop, whether they were being stolen from a civilian, per se. So we requested help from the National Tracing Center, which specifically filled out a trace request and sent it in on a few of the guns.

Q: The traces weren't coming back to you. What does that mean?

McCrary: Well, we would request trace information on the firearm in question, and it would come back blank. It would come back as being at the manufacturer, that the gun had never left the manufacturer. And we thought that this was odd at the time because, in fact, we had the firearm.

Q: What's the puzzle you're trying to figure out, and how does this list help you solve that?

McCrary: We're trying to figure out where these guns are coming from. We're working with a confidential informant, we have undercover agents that are out in the field that have purchased these firearms, and we're getting information. We're getting processing information, and we're trying to find out exactly, because of the quantity of guns that were involved, where these guns are coming from...So, we're kind of around in a brainstorming session and we decide, well let's go to the source. Let's look at all Lorcin firearms, and see if there is a specific pattern, and we were able to kind of akin to putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

Q: What did you realize?

McCrary: We realized that it was a much larger problem, and had been going on for a longer period of time than we initially suspected. And that added new urgency to the investigation.

Q: So the Tracing Center had come across all these unsuccessful traces, but they were even unaware that there was a pattern.

McCrary: Right. You've got to realize that the function of the Tracing Center at that time was to trace firearms, nothing more than that. Based on the volume of gun traces they go through there on any given day, and the priorities that those traces are given there was really no system that was set up at the time to deal with this specific question, or information that that I was requesting so it was only really by a matter of coincidences that we arrived at this list of unsuccessful traces. They weren't keeping information on unsuccessful traces.

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