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South L.A. retailer faces charges for alleged illegal gun sale

Boxes of supplies can be seen through a grate at one of the Botach Tactical warehouses in Leimert Park in Los Angeles.

Boxes of supplies can be seen through a grate at one of the Botach Tactical warehouses in Leimert Park in Los Angeles.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer announced criminal charges Tuesday against a South Los Angeles gun dealer who allegedly allowed a civilian to buy firearms and ammunition magazines using an exemption meant for police officers.

The weapons dealer implicated in the case is Botach Tactical owner BarKochba Botach, whose Leimert Park warehouses have been the target of neighborhood activists who complain it doesn’t belong in an up-and-coming business district trying to rebuild its reputation as a hub of African American arts and culture.

City prosecutors allege Botach improperly sold two 9-millimeter pistols last October to community college security officer Amelia Suarez, by giving her an exemption that should only be available to sworn law enforcement personnel.

Under city rules, Suarez shouldn’t have been allowed to buy more than one handgun within a 30-day period, according to the city complaint. Though Suarez was employed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to serve West Los Angeles College as a security officer, she was working at the department as a civilian and was not a sworn officer.

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Under the same exemption for sworn law enforcement employees, Botach also allegedly sold Suarez ammunition magazines that can hold 17 rounds each, a violation of California law, city lawyers say. If convicted of both charges, Botach could face as much as a year and a half in county jail and up to $1,000 in fines.

At a news conference, city lawyers said the charges were rare and serious. Feuer said his office had not prosecuted any other offenders for violating the one-handgun-per-month law since he took office. He declined to describe how the city discovered the alleged illegal sale.

Suarez also faces charges for allegedly falsely claiming that she was buying both guns for herself and then informally transferring one of the guns to a friend without going through the proper process. If she is convicted on all counts, her charges could lead to as much as 2½ years in jail and fines exceeding $2,000.

That friend later used the gun in a Riverside County homicide, city officials claimed. No further information was available about the Riverside County shooting. Feuer said law enforcement officials there had asked them not to release more details because it was an open criminal case.

“We have common-sense laws to prevent gun violence on the books for a reason — and we are going to be intent on enforcing those laws,” Feuer said at his news conference.

Long before the criminal charges were filed, Botach Tactical had drawn scrutiny in Leimert Park.

The firm, an online retailer of police and military equipment, operates a cluster of warehouses in the neighborhood. Unlike a typical gun shop, its website says that its facilities are not open to the general public, only to active law enforcement or military personnel.

Neighborhood activists have complained, however, that its blocked windows and barren walls are out of place in a business district that is poised for revival, with a new Metro stop and other improvements on the way.

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Some residents have also challenged whether Botach can legally do business in the area, pointing to neighborhood rules that ban gun shops.

Botach has survived past attempts to shut the firm down. City building department officials say the business can keep operating because it was established before the gun shop restrictions were imposed.

But Feuer suggested that the new charges could affect the future of the Leimert Park business. “This is the first criminal case of which I’m aware to be filed against this gun dealer, and our charges alone won’t close the shop,” Feuer said in a written statement Monday. “But there may be steps the city can take to further regulate the store’s operations, depending on the outcome of this case and any future investigations.”

City Council President Herb Wesson, who represents the Leimert Park area where the business is located, said the case could help him and other officials negotiate with Botach Tactical over relocating to “a more appropriate location.”

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“This just doesn’t fit” in Leimert Park, Wesson said. “Maybe this is an opportunity for us to go in and have these conversations. … It’s a chink in the armor.”

Community leaders in Leimert Park said the allegations confirmed their fears that weapons sold by Botach would end up in the wrong hands.

“I hope it will hasten his departure,” said Clint Rosemond, who helps convene the Leimert Park Village and Crenshaw Corridor Stakeholders Group.

Rosemond argued that not only were the warehouses out of place in the commercial corridor, but that a weapons retailer did not belong in a community that had suffered high rates of gun violence. Dozens of residents gathered in the area last week to remember murder victims.

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“The heart of the issue is that he should be operating that business somewhere else,” Rosemond said.

BarKochba Botach did not respond to an emailed request for comment Monday and Tuesday morning. Phone calls to the business were answered with a recorded message that said it was closed Monday and Tuesday for a religious holiday.

The Times was unable to reach Suarez for comment. Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said Suarez had been relieved of duty as of last Friday.

Follow @latimesemily for what’s happening at Los Angeles City Hall

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