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