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Student is held on weapons charges

Authorities find a cache at the Monterey Park home of an East L.A. College campus leader.

May 01, 2007|Richard Winton and Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writers

As president of the Associated Students at East Los Angeles College, Matthew Corwin spoke out on issues pressing the students he represented, including the high price of textbooks and funding for campus clubs.

But authorities Monday charged the 23-year-old with selling and possessing illegal weapons, including machine guns, after finding a cache of firearms at his Monterey Park home. Corwin deferred making a plea.

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives began investigating Corwin two weeks ago -- soon after the massacre at Virginia Tech -- when students and facility members sent them Corwin's page address, which showed him with various weapons and contained the quotation: "Be polite, be professional. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet."

Detectives didn't know whether Corwin brought weapons to the campus, but college friends said they were unaware of his arsenal.

"He would say, 'I am a collector.' But we didn't know what he collected. My first impression was comic books or toy cars," said Khristoper Lee, 28, a criminal-justice major who worked with Corwin on student government issues. "I never expected guns."

Corwin had been president of the Associated Students Union since September and spent hours in his office calculating how much student clubs should receive in funding, Lee said.

Corwin was being held at Men's Central Jail and could not be reached for comment.

College officials said they were monitoring the investigation but had not expelled Corwin or increased security measures.

"Our campus police are on alert, but we are not under any threat," said Oscar Valeriano Jr., dean of student services.

Corwin's MySpace page features statements about killing, images of Corwin wielding guns and videos of him firing weapons. In still images, he poses with various guns, including pointing a handgun at the camera. Below one image of Corwin in military fatigues with an assault-style weapon, it says, "I love the smell of gunfire in the morning."

Inside Corwin's home in the 400 block of Brightwood Street, detectives last week found, along with the assault weapons, a military ID, a bulletproof vest and a military-issue chemical weapons suit, prosecutors said.

"We were given information about his page by students and faculty, and we checked it and found what appeared to be automatic and military weapons," said sheriff's Capt. Ralph Webb. "When we searched his place, we found weapons stolen from the military."

Corwin was charged with five counts of unlawful assault-weapon sales, four counts of unlawful possession of assault weapons, two counts of possession of a deadly weapon and one count of receiving stolen property.

Webb said he does not believe Corwin planned any attacks on campus but is puzzled how the student leader amassed such an arsenal.

Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said Corwin was "inactive Army Reserve" and had allegedly sold some of the weapons.

He was arrested Thursday afternoon after a sheriff's major crimes surveillance team got information supporting the tips about the weapons.

Though prosecutors obtained an order preventing Corwin from appearing on campus, investigators said the weapons posed more of a threat than he did.

His arrest caught by surprise friends and students who knew him as a strong but caring leader.

At East L.A. College, students said they knew Corwin was in the Army Reserve and was head of the campus' 2nd Amendment Club, which focuses on gun-rights issues.

"We didn't get into any details of his personal life. It was a 'don't ask, don't-tell' kind of thing," Lee said.

In October, Corwin was quoted in the student newspaper as urging the Associated Students board to spend $750 on parts to make a gun that could be used by students who could not afford their own. The board did not support the proposal.

On Monday, students wondered who will run the student union.

"Now we don't have an ASU president. Who is going to write the agendas?" said Brenda Lee, 21, who is studying to be a nurse.

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