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Police Were Regular Customers at Range

Law enforcement officers from several agencies honed their skills at the O.C. firing range where assault weapons were seized.

November 27, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

The recent raid of a Laguna Niguel shooting range, resulting in a record seizure of assault weapons, wasn't the first time that law enforcement had visited the facility.

Officers go there all the time, as regular customers to hone their shooting skills.

"I've been in there many times to shoot, but I've never looked at the guns," said California Highway Patrol Lt. Steve Deck. "Our guys go directly to the range. Most of the guns are on a rack behind the counter, and you can't even tell what kind of guns they are."

A tip led agents to the On Target shooting range Nov. 19, when they confiscated 79 assault rifles, seven assault shotguns, three assault pistols and a rifle packed with grenade launchers.

Investigators would not say whether the tip came from a law enforcement officer who patronizes the business.

Ilya Yampolsky, the range's manager, was arrested and booked on 58 felony counts of violating state firearms laws.

Yampolsky, whose mother, Valentina, owns the range, was released on bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned next month, according to his San Bernardino-based attorney, Bruce Colodny.

"We'll contest the charges vigorously," Colodny said. "I think there's some confusion with laws. It's not illegal to possess assault weapons, and in some cases it is legal to sell them out of state."

The state banned certain assault weapons in 1989.

Nathan Barankin, a spokesman with Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer's office, said only two of the allegedly illegal weapons seized were in public view. Further investigation unearthed dozens more at the range and revealed that Yampolsky was offering them for sale over the Internet, authorities said.

On Wednesday, the range, located on a frontage road alongside Interstate 5, was filled with customers. Employees declined to comment.

But employees and customers of nearby businesses said they were surprised by the raid, given the regular presence of off-duty CHP officers, sheriff's deputies and police officers at the range.

"We always felt safe around here because the police were always over there," said Mary Yengo, 70, of San Clemente, who was taking tap-dancing lessons at a dance studio across a parking lot from the shooting range. "I figured if the police were always there, what could go wrong?"

Deck, of the CHP, said as many as 40 officers would converge on the business at a time.

Jill Kummer, who worked at a marble and granite store two doors from the range, said she didn't feel comfortable working near the business.

"There's a lot of strange things going on over there," said Kummer, who took a gun safety class at the range last year. "A pepper spray canister exploded and they had to evacuate the store, an employee shot himself in the hand, and there's been a few suicides."

Lt. Hayward Miller, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, would not confirm any specific incidents.

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