Southern California men plead guilty to plot to manufacture and sell AR-15 ‘ghost weapons’ | USAO-CDCA


LOS ANGELES – Two men have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to run an illegal business that built and sold desialized AR-15 firearms – commonly referred to as “ghost guns” – that could hold high-capacity magazines.

In the week before they were due to appear in court, the two defendants each pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to engage in the business of manufacturing and dealing in firearms without a license on Thursday.

The two defendants who pleaded guilty are Travis Schlotterbeck, 37, of Fountain Valley, and James Bradley Vlha, 29, of Norco. The program was based on two Bellflower companies controlled by Schlotterbeck called Sign Imaging and Live Fire Coatings. Neither the companies nor the defendants had a federal firearms license to engage in the manufacture or sale of firearms.

According to court documents, Schlotterbeck and Vlha admitted they accepted custom-made AR-15 firearms — both rifles and pistols — which they then manufactured and sold to undercover officers at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The defendants obtained the firearm parts, arranged certain parts – including unfinished lower cases often referred to as “80% lowers” – for machining for use in building finished firearms, and assembled and fabricated the firearms for sale without serial numbers or manufacturer markings.

As part of the program, which lasted from 2015 to 2017, Schlotterbeck and Vhla sold six of the ghost guns to undercover ATF agents and a confidential informant in 2015 and 2016, charging between $1,500 and $2,000 per firearm. Both men were indicted in a federal grand jury indictment filed in 2019.

In addition to the conspiracy charges, Schlotterbeck also pleaded guilty to selling a firearm to a convicted felon in connection with the sale of an AR-15 rifle to the whistleblower, aware that the whistleblower had previously been convicted of a was a crime.

Schlotterbeck and Vlha pleaded guilty before United States District Judge George H. Wu, who scheduled sentencing hearings for both defendants on November 17.

The conspiracy charge, to which both defendants have pleaded guilty, carries a maximum statutory sentence of five years in federal prison. The charge of selling a firearm to a convicted felon carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The ATF conducted the investigation into this matter.

United States Assistant Attorneys Brian R. Faerstein of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Division and Dan G. Boyle of the Asset Confiscation Division are prosecuting this case.


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