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Nevada County resident facing federal weapons charge takes plea deal

A South County resident indicted on federal weapons and marijuana charges has taken a plea agreement and is set for sentencing in June.

Craig Mason, 47, was initially arrested in late 2015 after he reportedly sold the parts necessary to assemble a firearm two years earlier. Mason operated a workshop on his Rosewood Road property just outside Lake of the Pines, which he allegedly used to manufacture firearms by converting AR-15-style blanks into lower receivers.

A “blank” is a metal casting that can be converted to allow the firing of a projectile. Once converted, it is considered a firearm by statute, even if there is no barrel, handle, or trigger, and it is subject to regulation.

Mason was indicted by a federal grand jury in January 2016 and charged with unlawful dealing and manufacturing firearms and manufacturing marijuana.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had been investigating the unlawful sale and manufacturing of firearms by LCG AR Parts and Custom Accessories, a firearms accessories dealer in Sacramento, and on three men associated with the company. One of them, Emiliano Cortez-Garcia, has a Nevada County connection — in 2010, he was convicted of possession of an assault weapon and sentenced to 16 months in prison.

A confidential informant reportedly purchased blanks from LCG in 2013, asked to have them illegally converted and was directed to Mason. According to court records, Mason manufactured two AR-15-style lower receivers for the confidential informant, despite being told the confidential informant had been to prison and was prohibited from possessing a firearm. The indictment alleged that Mason had manufactured and sold at least 25 AR-15-style receivers between 2011 and 2013.

During execution of a federal search warrant on Mason’s property in October 2013, law enforcement officers reportedly found multiple AR blanks and lower receivers, as well as several AR-15 rifles and a pistol built with lower receiver that originally had been blanks, and three jigs used to machine blanks into lower receivers.

They also allegedly found an active marijuana grow with 24 mature marijuana plants ranging in size from 2 to 7 feet tall. Inside the garage, law enforcement discovered an active marijuana processing operation including 15 drying lines containing five pounds of processed marijuana, and an ice chest concealing three and a half pounds of processed marijuana, according to court documents.

Mason’s attorney, Todd Leras, moved to dismiss the weapons charge in August 2017, arguing it was unconstitutionally vague and that Mason’s actions in 2013 were legal at the time. That motion was denied by U.S. District Court Judge Kimberley Mueller, who agreed with prosecutors the argument was premature and needed to be made at trial.

Mason’s trial was set to start March 12, but he agreed to plead guilty to the weapons charge March 8.

Mason will be sentenced June 3 in Sacramento. The maximum statutory penalty for unlawfully manufacturing and dealing in firearms is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to court documents. Mason also will be required to forfeit 22 firearms, as well as firearms components and more than 50,000 rounds of ammunition.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.

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