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How a Los Angeles mansion became an arsenal for more than 1,000 weapons

How a Los Angeles mansion became an arsenal for more than 1,000 weapons
This photo from a video provided by KCBS/KCAL-TV shows investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the LAPD inspecting a large cache of weapons seized at a Bel-Air home on Wednesday, (KCBC/KCAL / Associated Press)

When authorities raided a Bel-Air mansion this week, they had no idea about the cache of firearms they would find.

Over the course of several hours, they removed more than 1,000 weapons in one of the largest seizures of its kind in Los Angeles.

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Girard Saenz, 57, was arrested on suspicion of violating California’s law regarding assault weapons and .50-caliber Browning machine guns. The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, transportation, importation and sale of such firearms, except in specific circumstances. He was released from jail Thursday morning after posting $50,000 bond, according to jail records.

Here is what we know:

Who is Girard Saenz?

A law enforcement source not authorized to speak publicly told The Times that Saenz was selling guns and that some of the weapons may have been fully automatic, which are illegal in California.

Officials received a tip about a person illegally manufacturing and selling guns in a home in the 100 block of North Beverly Glen Boulevard, the Los Angeles Police Department said. Court records show the property is owned by Cynthia Beck, who has three daughters with J. Paul Getty’s son Gordon Getty and who is a longtime companion of Saenz’s.

A source told The Times that a few of the items seized at the Bel-Air mansion were military-grade weapons. Beck bought the property in January 2001, but it remains unclear what, if any, connection she has to Wednesday’s events. She could not be reached for comment after the raid.

Public records show that Saenz has been a licensed general building contractor since 1994 and operates a business called Gerry Saenz and Associates. The business address is a home on North Bunker Hill Avenue in Los Angeles that he owns with Beck. That property was also searched by authorities Wednesday, law enforcement sources told The Times.

Public records show Beck and Saenz together own several pieces of property in Los Angeles and an office building in San Francisco.

Neither Saenz nor his attorney could be reached for comment Thursday.

What sparked the raid?

Police launched an investigation after receiving an anonymous tip about someone selling guns at the home, said Officer Mike Lopez, an LAPD spokesman.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a statement that its agents searched the Bel-Air home after discovering an individual was illegally selling firearms outside the scope of the federal license the person possesses.

Video of the raid shows what appear to be ATF officials reviewing the trove of guns stacked on the ground, examining boxes and taking photographs of evidence. Authorities said they also found a large amount of firearm-manufacturing equipment and tools.

“This is a big stash,” Lt. Chris Ramirez, an LAPD spokesman, told reporters at the scene. “It’s beyond comprehension that somebody can have so many weapons in a residence like this, in a neighborhood like this.”

What do legal experts say?

Steve Cooley, a former Los Angeles County district attorney, said the number of firearms Saenz is accused of having is not the problem.

“There is nothing in itself wrong with having a thousand guns. It all depends on whether they comply with California and federal laws,” he cautioned, noting that even with a federal firearms license to sell weapons, the legal aspects of doing so are very complex.

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Chuck Michel, a well-known gun rights attorney, said that having 1,000 guns isn’t that unusual for a federal firearms dealer. He said dealers often keep their own private collections and then separately keep an inventory of weapons in stock for the business.

As a federally licensed weapons dealer, a person can sell guns elsewhere that are not compliant with California’s assault rifle laws. The state, however, requires dealers to have a dangerous weapons permit, Michel said.

Sometimes, he said, dealers can overlook the correct paperwork and run afoul of the law, noting that sensational search warrants with piles of guns often end up without charges.

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