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Marines sold military assault weapons to L.A. gang members, authorities allege [Updated]

November 9, 2010 |  3:04 pm

Four U.S. Marines have been arrested for allegedly selling rifles and assault weapons to gang members in Los Angeles.

Federal and state authorities told The Times that the investigation has been going on for several weeks and that it involves allegations that the Marines sold guns to gang members operating in the San Fernando Valley.

The suspects face state weapons charges, the sources said.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing, said officials plan to release more details about the case soon.

The arrests come several days after federal officials served search warrants at a home in San Clemente. At the time, officials declined to say what the probe was about. The San Clemente Times took photos showing boxes full of weapons apparently seized from the house, including large military-style weapons.

It's unclear how many weapons were involved or where the Marines were stationed. Officials did not immediately identify which gang purchased the weapons or how many gangs may have been involved.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Los Angeles Police Department; the Naval Criminal Intelligence Service; and the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General, as well as officials from the Marine Corps.

The arrests were made Monday. More arrests are possible, the sources said.

[Updated at 3:28 p.m.: Authorities have released a statement naming the suspects and providing more details:

On Monday, ATF agents arrested Jose Smith Pacheco, 31, of Montebello, and Miguel A. Ortiz, 49, of Northridge, both former Marines. Also arrested were Edwin Cano, 33, of Northridge, and Christopher John Thomas, 32, of Van Nuys. The four are charged with five counts each of having unlawful assault weapons, including four AK-47 assault rifles and an AR-15 assault weapon. Cano faces three additional counts, including two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon. The felony complaint for arrest warrant was filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Deputy District Attorney Steven Dickman of the Hardcore Gang Division is prosecuting the case.

The San Clemente home belonged to former Marine Adam Andrew Gitschlag, 28. He was arrested, and authorities confiscated boxes of automatic weapons and rifles.

Authorities allege that on June 23 the suspects sold $6,000 worth of weapons to a person they thought was connected to the street gang. The sale took place at an L.A.-area post office parking lot, where one of the suspects worked. One of those involved in the sale was a law-enforcement informant.

The five men are charged with five counts each of having unlawful assault weapons, including four AK-47s and an AR-15 assault rifle.

Prosecutors say Thomas, Ortiz and Pacheco have pleaded not guilty. Gitschlag and Cano are expected to be arraigned at a later date.

More details here.]

-- Andrew Blankstein

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