A Pasadena police officer who formerly served as spokesman for the department turned himself in to authorities Friday after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of selling dozens of guns across Southern California without a license.
Lt. Vasken Gourdikian faces four felony counts, including illegally possessing a short-barreled rifle and providing false statements while buying firearms, according to the indictment filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.
The accusations mark a dramatic fall for Gourdikian, once a top-ranking official for the Pasadena Police Department and adjutant to Chief Phillip L. Sanchez.
Appearing in federal court Friday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, Gourdikian, 48, pleaded not guilty. His defense attorney, Mark Geragos, praised his client’s “unblemished and distinguished career” as a police officer and vowed to fight the charges.
“This indictment is misguided and truly an abuse of the supposed discretion of the government,” Geragos said in the statement.
The 22-page grand jury indictment accuses Gourdikian of selling more than 100 firearms without a license from March 2014 until February 2017, when agents raided his home in Sierra Madre.
As a sworn peace officer in California, Gourdikian was eligible to purchase “off roster” handguns, firearms that are not in the state-published catalog of certified handguns and therefore not available to the public.
His status as a police officer also allowed him to purchase more than one handgun in a 30-day period and, with special waivers from the Pasadena Police Department, he was able to obtain firearms without completing the usual 10-day waiting period.
In an online forum, he posted ads offering firearms and described the guns as “off roster” and sold an array of pistols and semiautomatic rifles across Southern California, the court papers allege.
“In these days of escalating gun violence, it is important to enforce our firearms laws vigorously,” U.S. Atty. Nicola T. Hanna said in a statement. “Those who sell guns illegally need to be held accountable, especially those who abuse a position of public trust.”
A Pasadena police officer since 1994, Gourdikian was placed on paid administrative leave after agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seized the guns from his San Gabriel Valley home.
City officials said that based on the indictment, he will remain on leave but will no longer receive a salary. The city’s internal affairs probe, which was suspended pending the outcome of the criminal investigation, will also resume, according to a statement issued by the Pasadena Police Department.
During the search of Gourdikian’s home, agents seized 62 firearms — a cache of weapons that required two trucks to haul away. The weapons were later listed on a federal registry of potential forfeited assets.
ATF officials said the inquiry into Gourdikian began through routine analysis of handguns recovered by law enforcement and sales records.
“Bringing a case against a law enforcement officer is never pleasant, but we hold public safety and a commitment to justice above everything,” Bill McMullan, the special agent in charge of the ATF office in Los Angeles, said in a statement.
Prosecutions of sworn law enforcement officers for firearms violations are rare.
In 2016, a former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, Ryan McGowan, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after a jury convicted him of dealing firearms without a license and falsifying records.
McGowan used his privileges as a deputy to buy off-roster guns, then resold them at a profit on the private market. He also worked with a licensed gun dealer to evade federal law, prosecutors said.