Updated after the jump: The Western Firearms location has key links to big players in the Bell salary scandal. How much more bad press could this small town attract?
Update, 9:22 a.m.: Exclusive "I had no idea" commentary from store owner Aurelio Lopez. Originally posted at 8:50 a.m.
Former city manager and master embezzler Robert Rizzo isn't the only slimeball of a news scandal to come out of the City of Bell in 2010.
This morning, an intensive Washington Post report on U.S. gun shops that have sold the most weapons recovered by police is hitting the nation like a deadly truth bomb. There's also a list for guns found exclusively in Mexico -- and that's where one infamous little L.A. County town comes in.
Though Texas turned up dirtiest, the investigation finds that a weapons company in Bell named Western Firearms has been the source of 60 guns seized in Mexico. Now imagine all the guns they didn't find.
Western Firearms places 10th on the Post's list:
With about 60 Mexican traces, Western Firearms in Bell, Calif., outside Los Angeles, ranks 10th. Owner Aurelio Lopez did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Western, a family-owned business, has been selling firearms for 40 years, according to its Web site.
The homemade little website in question makes some creepily out-of-touch statements. Click the "About Us" tab, and, without any sort of safety warning/disclaimer, you'll get:
"Going hunting for that big game and need the new "lead free" ammunition? We have most popular calibers in stock. Or you just graduated from the academy and are in need of some cuffs, keepers, or better yet that Berreta you were trained with? No problem! "
Or you're a 14-year-old boy who just graduated to "assassin" within the Mexican drug cartel, and are in need of a "sporting weapon" with which to gun down your enemies before beheading them? Once those guns find their way down to Mexico, no problem!
Western Firearms is located at 6621 South Atlantic Ave., Bell, Calif., 90201.
Only one other California town makes an appearance in the article. Seventh on the non-Mexico-specific list is Trader Sports -- a weapons company in San Leandro, Calif. -- with 1,605 traces.
Update, 9:22 a.m.: Though the Washington Post claimed it couldn't get in touch with anyone from Western Firearms, store owner Aurelio Lopez answered the phone this morning like nothing was up.
When we asked if he was aware that a Washington Post article had identified 60 of the company's guns as circulating in Mexico, Lopez said:
"No. Is that, like, a newspaper?"
Lopez emphasized that he had no idea this was a problem, and didn't see how it could be, as the store has a standard procedure for screening buyers. He said we'd have to come in if we wanted to see how it works.
"It's the same one that everybody uses," he said. "It's posted on the store."
Update, 4 p.m.: Turns out there's a giant web of scandal behind the specific Bell location of this mom-and-pop weapons shop. Whether or not current management has any connection to that history has yet to be seen, but check this out:
Western Firearms was once a "department" of Western Auto Supply, which is located at 6501 Atlantic Avenue and is currently out of business. In Google's Street View mode, a sign hanging on the front door of Western Auto reads:
WE HAVE MOVED
IS NOW LOCATED AT
6621 S. ATLANTIC
BELL CA, 90201
First things first. What kind of auto-supply store has a "gun department"? Secondly, see that sign that says, "Pete Werrlein -- DEALER"?
Werrlein happens to be the city's ex-mayor, and a close friend of the notorious Robert Rizzo, who -- if you somehow missed the shitstorm -- was paying himself $800,000 with a $1 million pension before he was cuffed and sent to court earlier this year. In a July article, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Werrlein had been paid $4.6 million for a property that matches the location of Western Auto Supply:
In the most recent deal, Bell's Community Redevelopment Agency last year paid $4.6 million to purchase property from a family trust of longtime politician Peter Werrlein, who was sentenced to three years in prison in the 1980s for holding hidden interests in a poker casino.
Despite his criminal record, Werrlein worked for the city as a consultant at least into the 1990s.
The Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor does not have an exact listing for that address, but no surrounding property exceeds $1 million, and most are well below that.
This exhaustive report of various Bell-scandal players identifies Darryl Roth as the manager of Western Auto Supply. Indeed, on the City of Bell's Industrial Commercial Inspection database for 2009-10, Roth is still listed as manager. And guess what? Just like Rizzo and Werrlein and all other sketchballs involved in the Bell money deals, Roth contributed cash to the campaign of Pedro Carrillo, the city administrator largely believed to have allowed the Bell scandal to go on beneath his nose.
So can we agree, now, that Western Auto might have been another moneymaking pawn for greedy Bell officials and businessmen? The remaining mystery, of course, is how Western Firearms fits into all this. And, more importantly, why those particular guns were the ones to make it down to Mexico.
Western Firearms has since moved from its spot inside Western Auto. Its website reads:
"Previously located inside of Western Auto, we have now moved to a new location: 6621 Atlantic Ave Bell, CA. 90201 just down the street. We will still be providing the same customer service as always. Western Firearms, a family owned business, prides itself in knowing that we treat everyone like family and you are always welcome to stop by."
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Western Auto's old phone number, as it is reported on all Internet listings -- (323) 560-0560 -- is the current phone number for Western Firearms.
When we called a second time, Western Firearms owner Lopez said his company has no affiliation with Western Auto Supply, then hung up on us before we could ask any more questions.
The firearms shop has long been a provider for police officers. (Above, on the window of Western Auto, you can see the words, "Police Equipment.") Could it be another clue that Bell policemen were also given huge perks in the ever-unraveling Bell scandal?
For now, we're still calling around, and your guess is as good as ours. But to say something is definitely fishy here is an understatement.