Santa Barbara authorities say they’ve connected three recent felony busts that netted untraceable “ghost guns” and “large quantities” of methamphetamine back to 36-year-old former firearms dealer Kyle Dodge, who was arrested last month with a cache of illegal weapons and bindles of the drug packaged for sale.
Dodge ― who until last spring operated Dodge City Shooters Supply alongside his father, Rick ― was pulled over after peeling out in his 770-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat on Camino Del Sur in Isla Vista.
As deputies spoke to Dodge, they spotted a handgun magazine in the driver’s-side door. A search of the car turned up 22 handguns, shotguns, and what officials described as “AR-15-style rifles.” Deputies also seized 97 grams of methamphetamine from the trunk.
Back at Dodge’s house on Vega Drive in Goleta, detectives uncovered 70 more firearms and another 33 grams of meth.
While many of the weapons appear to have been lawfully purchased and owned by Dodge, a number were illegally modified. Detectives found four customized rifles, two short-barreled shotguns, multiple factory firearms with filed-off serial numbers, and illegal attachments, including a silencer, a large-capacity magazine, and a sniper scope.
But perhaps most troubling to authorities was the discovery in Dodge’s house of four home-built “ghost guns” ― unregistered firearms that are almost impossible to trace and therefore favored by criminals. They lay near a drill press and box of parts dusted with metal shavings.
These particular guns, all four of them pistols, were made from components sold by Polymer80, a Nevada-based company that offers “gun assembly kits” that come with 80 percent of the firearm. Owners then buy the other 20 percent separately and are responsible for putting the pieces together ― as well as serializing and registering the gun.
Sometimes they don’t. The weapons then become convenient black-market purchases for people who couldn’t pass a background check.
Dodge has been in jail since his December 5 arrest. His bail is set at $500,000, but his lawyer, longtime Santa Barbara defender Robert Sanger, filed a motion this week to have the amount reduced.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Kevin Weichbrod countered in his own filing to Judge Brian Hill that Dodge’s alleged crimes go far beyond his own “disturbing conduct” as “it appears clear that the defendant was facilitating and likely profiting from the criminal conduct of multiple other offenders.”
John Carothers, Jered Harwin, Curt Carpenter | Credit: Courtesy
Weichbrod specifically pointed to the recent arrests of John Carothers in Lompoc on December 17, Jered Harwin in Isla Vista on December 18, and Curt Carpenter in Santa Barbara on January 19. In all three cases, the men were in possession of Polymer80 handguns, copious amounts of methamphetamine, scales, and baggies.
Carothers has previous felony convictions for selling drugs near a school and evading police, and he is not permitted to own a gun.
Harwin, a known Isla Vista drug dealer, was out on bail from an earlier arrest. He was a passenger in Dodge’s car when Dodge was taken into custody.
Carpenter has a lengthy and violent rap sheet and was apprehended during a robbery in progress at an upper State Street motel. It was his second arrest in 48 hours, after he was caught trying to burglarize a Nopalitos Way business. He was wearing a skull mask and carrying a cattle-prod-style taser at the time.
“The cases illustrated above are not merely circumstantial in that they all possessed the same type of manufactured firearm without serial numbers, but they each have direct ties to the defendant in this case,” said Weichbrod.
The weapons and drugs confiscated from Carothers, Harwin, and Carpenter, respectively. | Credit: Courtesy
In considering a bail reduction, Weichbrod continued, Judge Hill ought to look not only at Dodge’s current charges but also the “sophisticated criminality” of his actions.
“The illegal manufacturing and selling or giving of non-serialized firearms to known drug dealers is perhaps one of the most dangerous activities possible, and it creates a serious risk to the general public and law enforcement officers,” he said.
Weichbrod also detailed Dodge’s criminal history as a reason for keeping him behind bars. It includes previous arrests for reckless driving, domestic violence, illegal possession of a firearm after his domestic violence conviction, harassment, and trespassing.
Dodge’s current troubles are not the first time his family name has made local headlines. In 2006, federal agents swept through their store near the base of Highway 154. An employee had forged paperwork for nearly two dozen guns and sold them himself.
A closer look at Dodge City’s bookkeeping turned up other records violations, which the business had been cited for in 2002, as well. Their dealer license was revoked, and the Dodges have sold only ammunition, range targets, and other shooting supplies since.
Kyle Dodge’s bail-reduction hearing is scheduled to take place Monday before Judge Hill.
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