Police link ‘ghost guns’ seized in Mar Vista to local burglaries and a Ballona Wetlands crime ring

By Gary Walker

Unregistered, self-assembled weapons like this AR-15 style
assault rifle seized from a Mar Vista home are a “prolific problem” for law enforcement
Photo courtesy of LAPD Pacific

A cache of AR-15 style assault rifles, 45 high-capacity rifle magazines, 4,000 rounds of ammunition and a pair of loaded handguns seized from two convicted felons at a home in Mar Vista may have ties to local residential burglaries and criminal activity operating out of the Ballona Wetlands, according to police investigators.

The LAPD Pacific Division’s Pacific Crime Impact Team, a four-person unit that addresses major crimes on the Westside, located the guns during a probation check on Feb. 28 in the 3700 block of Barry Avenue, less than a block north of Venice Boulevard.

The five assault rifles recovered by LAPD and county probation officers are “ghost guns” — unregistered, home-fabricated weapons without traceable serial numbers. The handguns included a MAC-11 machine pistol equipped with an illegal sound suppressor and a 9mm Smith & Wesson.

Pacific Division Commander Capt. James Setzer said keeping tabs on those prohibited from possessing firearms (as identified by the California Department of Justice) is one of the Pacific Crime Impact Team’s many duties.

“Especially critical in this seizure was the fact that these were ghost guns, which are firearms that have no serial numbers and can be made by ordering individual parts then assembled at the kitchen table,” Setzer explained. “There is no registration involved, and thus a firearm can be ‘made’ that has no ownership paper trail.”

“Those guns are a prolific problem for us. We are buying and seizing these guns on a weekly basis in Southern California,” added Ginger Colbrun, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles branch of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Rick Walker, 51, and Shane Saffery, 47, were arrested in the sweep for alleged probation violations and being felons in possession of a firearm.

Walker was convicted of residential burglary in 1985 and domestic abuse in 1995, and according to a March 9 criminal complaint was required to register as a sex offender due to a violent felony conviction. He’s being held without bail and is scheduled to appear at the Airport Courthouse in Westchester on May 8.

Saffery is free on bond but is also charged with burglary, robbery and receiving stolen property — charges that relate to a crime ring operating out of the nearby Ballona Wetlands, said LAPD officer and Pacific Crime Impact Team Leader Tae Soon Kim.

Kim said both men have “extensive” prior gun-related and narcotics arrests, but the wetlands connection was entirely unexpected.

“That was one of the weird things about the arrest — that it has a nexus to the wetlands area. We’re finding out that there’s a criminal element in the wetlands, and we discovered that a handgun that was part of the seizure had been stolen from a home in Westchester,” Kim said.

In 2014, The Argonaut reported that a sweep of the 600-acre ecological reserve on the Marina del Rey side by Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station deputies uncovered a bicycle-theft ring and four stolen handguns.

The Mar Vista residence had been under surveillance for several weeks before the impact team decided to move in.

“We’ve received a lot of radio calls about that location, so it was already on our radar,” Kim said. “The way that people came in and out of there caught the attention of some of the neighbors and our patrol cars in the area.”

Kim said it was too early to ascertain if the suspects are part of a larger gun-running ring.

“It’s tough to say at the moment, but those are an inordinate amount of weapons. He certainly could have been selling, but some people have that amount of weapons because they’re selling drugs,” Kim noted.

“The shocking quantity of weapons and ammunition posed a tremendous threat to our neighborhoods,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin. “I am incredibly grateful to our LAPD officers, who were able to get these dangerous and deadly weapons off our streets.”