A second Pasadena police officer has been suspended in connection with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) probe of Lt. Vasken Gourdikian, who faces federal charges of selling weapons online without a license, possessing an unregistered firearm and lying on government gun sale applications.
“We can confirm that another Pasadena officer is on paid administrative leave and under investigation by federal authorities,” said Lisa Derderian, the city’s interim public information officer. “Because it is a personnel matter, we cannot comment further.”
Gourdikian, a 27-year veteran of the department, on Friday pleaded not guilty to all the charges in federal court in downtown Los Angeles.
If convicted, Gourdikian, who was released on $100,000 bail, faces 35 years in prison. He returns to court on April 24 for a pretrial hearing.
Portions of the indictment practically mirror some stories appearing in the Pasadena Weekly over the past year, including one section on Gourdikian’s lack of a federal firearms license and another on his participation on the website Calguns.net. On the site, Gourdikian sold weapons “BNIB” — brand new in box. ATF spokesperson Ginger Colbrun said she could not provide specifics because the investigation is ongoing. However, Colbrun did confirm the agency was investigating multiple officers.
“The ATF considers more than two cases a trend,” Colbrun said.
Gourdikian was suspended with pay more than a year ago after the ATF raided his home in Sierra Madre and removed 57 weapons. On Friday, Sanchez issued a statement indicating Gourdikian has now been placed on suspension without pay. When he was sent home last February pending the results of an internal investigation, Gourdikian still received his regular paycheck. At the time of the hearing, Gourdikian had collected more than $190,000.
“The allegations, if true, are concerning,” Sanchez said of the indictment in a statement issued by the city. “We continue to cooperate with federal authorities and are continuing our internal affairs investigation into this matter.”
As the indictment states, Gourdikian cannot carry or own a firearm. Although he has not been fired, the federal charges will probably end his career in Pasadena.
City Manager Steve Mermell said the indictment is “damaging” to the Police Department.
“Trust in our law enforcement is critical to effective policing and our officers must be beyond reproach,” Mermell said. “I support Chief Sanchez’s employment action against Lt. Gourdikian and the resumption of the internal investigation.”
Under the user name “vgourdik,” Gourdikian sold hundreds of weapons on Calguns, a Second Amendment advocacy and gun enthusiast website. Many of those weapons were on the state’s off-roster list, meaning civilians cannot purchase them.
Police officers can buy the weapons and sell them to other law enforcement officers. But they cannot sell more than five guns a year, and they cannot sell them to civilians.
Two other police employees, Detectives Cuong Dinh Pham and Nick Cheung, are also registered to Calguns.net, according to documents obtained by the Weekly.
It was not known if they were being investigated by the department or the ATF.
“In many of his posts defendant Gourdikian would describe the advertised firearms as BNIB, meaning brand new in box,” the indictment reads in part.
Gourdikian did not have the required federal firearms license to sell the weapons, according to the indictment. He is also being charged with selling guns without a federal license.
Gourdikian used his status as a police officer to get around the 10-day waiting period to buy weapons via waivers provided by Sanchez. In May 2015, Gourdikian used a waiver from Chief Sanchez to purchase a Glock 43 handgun. That waiver specifically stated the weapon would not be resold and was being purchased for off-duty use, but a week later Gourdikian advertised the same type of weapon for sale on Calguns.
The weapon was not accounted for when the ATF seized weapons from Gourdikian’s home on Feb. 17, 2017.
“Bringing a case against a law enforcement officer is never pleasant,” said Bill McMullan, special agent in charge of the ATF Los Angeles field division. “But we hold public safety and a commitment to justice above everything.”
The indictment raises even more questions about who Gourdikian was selling weapons to on several occasions. The Pasadena police lieutenant allegedly sold multiple weapons in gang-ridden areas.
According to the indictment, on June 5, 2015 Gourdikian sold eight weapons to a buyer in Duarte. On July 17 that year, he sold three more weapons to a buyer in that area. Another eight-weapon transaction was made in Duarte on Dec. 4. The ATF has traced all of the weapons that Gourdikian sold, Colbrun said. The indictment includes data on each of the weapons in question.
There have been no reports that any of the weapons allegedly sold by Gourdikian were used in any crimes.
“In these days of escalating gun violence, it is important to enforce our firearms laws vigorously,” said US Attorney Nicola T. Hanna, who is prosecuting Gourdikian. “Those who sell guns illegally need to be held accountable, especially those who abuse a position of public trust.”
Gourdikian is also charged with twice having falsely certified on ATF forms that he was the actual buyer of a firearm, when at the time of the certification he had already agreed to sell the firearm to another person.
When the police raided his home, they seized an unregistered short barrel rifle.
After Gourdikian was arrested, the ATF released a memo to police chiefs in Los Angeles, calling on them to educate their officers about selling weapons.
“Last year when ATF sent out the law enforcement advisory educating LE on the definition of ‘engaging in a business’ it was because the Los Angeles field division has discovered some law enforcement officers who did not have a federal firearms license [FFL] were purchasing off-roster firearms and reselling those firearms to non-law enforcement entities for a profit,” Colbrun said.
The memo did not mention Gourdikian by name.
City officials claimed Gourdikian never performed any illegal activities in connection with his job despite the fact that he used his position to obtain the waivers and used his city email address to do business on Calguns.
“He’s committed to fighting the charges against him,” attorney Robert Kalunian said during the hearing Friday.
Kalunian appeared for Gourdikian’s attorney Mark Geragos.
Kalunian would not speak to reporters after the arraignment.
Gourdikian, Kalunian and Geragos served together on the Pasadena Armenian Genocide Memorial Committee in 2014-15.
A civilian told the Weekly that Gourdkian attempted to sell him a military-grade gun after a police fundraiser. The department began an investigation after questions about the activity at the event uncovered the alleged attempt to sell the weapon in 2014.
Despite that investigation and multiple waivers for weapons, Gourdikian was promoted to department spokesperson in 2016.