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Warrant application shows Ares Armor referenced in wider investigation

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Southern California gun parts and accessory dealer Ares Armor continues to inform customers and supporters as to the status of its operations following yesterday’s raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Ares Chief Operations Officer Jeremy Tuma posted an update Saturday evening to his Instagram account where he first posted the news yesterday afternoon that “ATF is currently executing search warrants on all of our locations.”

“We will be burning the midnight oil to assure we are fully operational by morning and that business goes on as uninterrupted as possible,” Tuma stated in last night’s message.

Per Dave Workman, who conducted a telephone interview last night with Ares CEO Dimitrios Karras for The Gun Mag, “federal agents ‘took almost 6,000 lowers’ [and] no arrests of any Ares Armor employees were made.” Supplementing that is a Facebook alert from the CalGuns Foundation advising “We have confirmed that the ATF has searched multiple properties in the Ares Armor/EP Lowers matter and have seized customer lists,” and reminding people approached by law enforcement to “Exercise your right to remain silent; Never consent to a search; Demand an attorney; [and] Contact The Calguns Foundation’s Help Hotline.”

What is unclear is what those “lists” consist of if the lowers were not recorded as firearms. No doubt they include credit/debit purchases, and may also include generic customer lists/mailing lists, etc. With computers seized, ATF has it all.

The ATF action was in response to the company selling so-called “80 percent lower receivers” manufactured by EP Armory, itself the subject of a raid and seizures over parts which have previously been determined by ATF not to be a firearm, as further machining operations must be taken by customers to turn them into functional components.

As reported yesterday in this column, the raid came after a United States District Judge issued an order Friday that a Temporary Restraining Order issued by the court on Tuesday did “not restrain lawful criminal proceedings,” prompting an industry source to predict an imminent warrant and action, which turned out to be the case. Per a legal source, a search for the warrant leading to yesterday’s raid has come up empty, leading to speculation that it has been sealed.

One other potential tie-in, speculated on in Thursday’s Gun Rights Examiner column, and first broached on Monday on The War on Guns blog, was if the law enforcement interest in EP and Ares was part of a wider operation, and specifically, if there is any relation between yesterday’s raids and a February 27 Associated Press report of “[t]wo Sacramento brothers [who] were charged ... with making hundreds of illegal, untraceable firearms as part of what law enforcement officials said was a wide-ranging network designed to skirt federal laws.”

The answer to that turns out to be affirmative, but tangentially, with no implications of criminal activity by Ares, and rather providing documentation that they were seeking to ensure their operations remained lawful.

The AP report was based on a February 27 press release from the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California, announcing a federal grand jury indictment of Luis Cortez-Garcia and Emiliano Cortez-Garcia, “charging them with unlawful manufacturing and sales of firearms, conspiracy to unlawfully manufacture and sell firearms, and several counts each related to the unlawful possession, manufacturing, and sale of short-barreled rifles, machine guns, and silencers.”

“[T]the defendants and others involved in the scheme sold the parts necessary to assemble a firearm,” the release explained. “The parts included a metal casting of an incomplete lower receiver called a blank,’ which is not considered a firearm by ATF.”

That in itself is an interesting admission, as parts seized from Ares are not alleged to have been completed, so no inferences should be drawn that they were suspects in this investigation. The crux of ATF’s objections were that the brothers would assist/perform steps in the machining and assembly process, and much of the search warrant package involved facilities under suspicion of providing such operations.

Also included in the release were links to the indictment and the search warrant package, the latter providing evidence of an investigative connection on page 86, where an April 12, 2013 letter from Debra S. Satowiak, Chief, Firearms and Explosives Industry Division, to Jason Davis, attorney for Ares Armor Metal Works, LLC, advised that a Federal Firearms License is required for “a business premises at which, for a fee, it makes available a computer numeric control (CNC) machine, tools, equipment, and instructions to persons who bring in castings or raw materials for the purpose of creating firearms.”

A search of the California Secretary of State Business Entity site lists an entry for Lycurgan Inc., which per the legal documents is the dba for Ares Armor, and another entry for Ares Armor Metalworks, LLC. Both entities are listed in Oceanside, although they show different addresses a couple miles apart. Both the ATF letter and the Ares Armor website reference Jason Davis as the representing attorney. Further, AresArmorMetalworks.com redirects to an uncompleted "Build Party" page on AresArmor.com.

As the ATF letter specifies it was in response to an inquiry about “proposed operations,” as opposed to redefining “80 percent receivers” as “firearms,” and any other connection between the warrant and current actions against Ares is unclear. In the absence of further dots being connected, informed speculation is all that’s left, and in the case of Ares, the company’s unapologetic and adamant profile as a proponent of the right to keep and bear arms has prompted many in political power to view them as a threat that must be stopped, as their well-publicized defiance of National City politicians who objected to their store sign demonstrated earlier this month. And Ares advertising “Build Your Own Guns No Serial Number Required” no doubt has also rubbed those on the control side of the equation the wrong way.

Between that, being a vocal and uncompromising champion for the right to keep and bear arms, and even having fun taking a poke at anti-gunners through clever PR maneuvers like securing the domain name SenatorFeinstein.com and redirecting it to their website, it’s not unreasonable to speculate there are some who would like to make an example of Ares, and to close off another means by which peaceable people can exercise their firearms rights and protect themselves from government infringements.

If Ares were truly regarded as a threat, as opposed to people to teach a lesson to for their defiance, why would the government have offered to forego their warrant if the company agreed to surrender their inventory and customer list?

All of this leads to other interesting admissions on the government’s part.

“According to the Department of Homeland Security, Emiliano Cortez is a Mexican national who has previously been deported and is illegally present within the United States,” the search warrant package declares. “Further, Emiliano Cortez is a convicted felon. In 2010, in Nevada County, California, Emiliano Cortez was convicted of possession of an assault weapon and sentenced to sixteen months in prison.

“According to the Department of Homeland Security, Luis Cortez is a Mexican national that is illegally present within the United States,” the warrant package adds.

It’s fair to ask which poses the greater danger to “the security of a free state” -- people exercising rights which, as declared by the Constitution “shall not be infringed,” or a government that goes after them and makes a point of turning a blind eye to real threats because it is politically advantageous to do so. As with ATF activities in Fast and Furious “gunwalking,” exploiting criminal activities in this country by Mexican nationals to allow for tightening of gun regulations against law-abiding Americans suggests Ares Armor and others making and/or selling "80 percent lowers" may be convenient scapegoats.

Expect that to remain unreported. Based on past performance, it’s not like mainstream outlets are likely to do more than parrot what the government feeds them.

This column will continue to monitor developments in this unfolding story. In the mean time, the Ares Armor Facebook page continues to provide updates directly from the people caught up in this mess.

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