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ATF & IRS Agents Raid Tacoma Gun Store
By Steve Miletich and Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter

TACOMA Evidence of tax evasion and scores of unaccounted-for guns led federal investigators yesterday to search the gun shop that once owned the rifle used in the Beltway sniper killings.

More than a dozen agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the Internal Revenue Service conducted early-morning raids at Bull's Eye Shooter Supply near the Tacoma Dome and the luxury Lakewood home of its owner, Brian Borgelt.

The warrants authorizing the searches remained sealed while agents inventoried boxes of materials seized at both locations.

A federal law-enforcement source said agents in recent weeks had obtained evidence that Borgelt and his business one of the largest gun shops in Washington have not paid federal taxes for at least six years.

Borgelt was home during the search of his large, two-story house on the shore of American Lake, and later drove to Bull's Eye, where agents completed their search after 10 hours in the store. Handwritten signs on its barred, glass doors said Bull's Eye was closed for the day.

Borgelt said he is cooperating with authorities. He said he believes their main focus is learning how the Bushmaster rifle got from his store into the hands of sniper suspects John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. "Everything else is a sub-issue," Borgelt said.

He declined to say whether he had paid his federal taxes for the past six years. The tax issues, he said, "are a business matter that's being attended to."

His store came under scrutiny after the arrests of Muhammad and Malvo, suspects in killings and robberies that left 14 people dead and five wounded in five states and the District of Columbia. Muhammad and Malvo lived in Tacoma just before the sniper spree and are suspected in the slaying of a 21-year-old woman here.

The .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle used in most of the slayings was traced to Bull's Eye, which obtained the $1,600 weapon in July from the manufacturer. Borgelt told investigators he was not aware it was missing until it was found behind the seat in Muhammad and Malvo's car when they were arrested Oct. 24.

It would have been illegal for either Muhammad or Malvo to buy a gun. Muhammad, 41, was the subject of a domestic-violence protective order and the 17-year-old Malvo was a juvenile and illegal immigrant.

Their arrests led to an ATF compliance audit of the Tacoma gun store. Gun dealers are required to keep a ledger of sales so that a weapon can be traced if it is used in a crime. The ledger also demonstrates that the buyer had a mandated background check.

ATF agents found that Bull's Eye could not account for as many as 90 guns, sources have said.

"We found sufficient record-keeping deficiencies that it became serious enough to conduct a criminal investigation," ATF special agent Martha Tebbencamp said.

Two years earlier, an ATF audit of Bull's Eye turned up 150 instances in which firearms couldn't be matched to sales records. ATF has been criticized for not having sanctioned Bull's Eye or its owner two years ago. Failure to properly keep the firearms records is a federal misdemeanor.

The ATF told Borgelt to clean up his books but took no action against his firearms license, federal sources said.

Borgelt filed a theft report for the Bushmaster with Tacoma police last month, but could not say when the rifle disappeared from his store. Federal agents and prosecutors question this account.

A regular customer who was turned away from Bull's Eye yesterday said a Bushmaster rifle was put on display in July, and he is certain it was the same gun. He said the weapon was a showpiece, customized with an expensive scope and bipod stand.

"I didn't see any others like it it was too pricey for a lot of people," said the customer, who only gave his name as Robin.

The rifle would have been difficult to steal. "It wasn't at a spot where you would easily reach it," the customer said. "You had to ask if you could handle it, and one of the guys would let you."

Copyright 2002 The Seattle Times Company

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