American Guns' Gunsmoke Guns: Did Wyatt family rip off the I.R.S. for years?
Update: We've been following a series of surprising incidents involving Gunsmoke Guns, a Wheat Ridge store that served as the setting of American Guns, a reality TV series that was recently canceled by the Discovery Channel; see our previous coverage below.
First, there was a robbery. Then, there was an IRS raid, which some Second Amendment boosters saw as politically motivated. Now, the search warrant affidavit has been unsealed (see it here), and it reveals that the inquiry into the business activities of the Wyatt family, who run Gunsmoke, has been underway for years.
A quick recap. Despite seemingly healthy ratings, American Guns' plug was pulled in December by Discovery executives, with recent examples of horrific gun violence, including the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, appearing to be primary factors in the decision. Then, on February 27, a thief or thieves broke into the shop through a hole in the roof, spiriting away twelve handguns and three rifles; no arrests have been made in the case. And the following week, the shop was briefly closed after I.R.S. agents arrived, armed with a search warrant.
Rich Wyatt with a startled-looking President George W. Bush.
That document is now public, and the agent filing it offers a straight-forward statement: "I respectfully submit that there is probable cause to believe that for the period of January 1, 2006 to the present, the following items, which constitute evidence of the commission of, contraband, the fruits of crime, or instrumentalities of violations of Title 26...for tax years 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 will be found at the PREMISES."
The section of the affidavit devoted to evidence states that in or around June 2010, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was given information suggesting that Rich Wyatt, family patriarch and manager of Gunsmoke, "unlawfully possessed six...fully automatic weapons" in violation of U.S. law. This allegation caused agents to look more closely into the shop's records, figuratively transforming these weapons into smoking guns.
Shortly thereafter, agents discovered that while the Wyatts -- including wife Renee and kids Kurt and Paige -- have long been thought to own Gunsmoke, a certain Victor Rodriguez is actually the man with his name on the paperwork, although Wyatt told investigators he "did not have a hand in day-to-day operations." Rodriguez subsequently revealed that he'd purchased Gunsmoke from Wyatt in 2005 after Wyatt "went through a serious divorce." At the time, Rodriguez said the business wasn't profitable, but once it returned to the black, he'd agreed to sell it back to Wyatt.
Nonetheless, Wyatt's signature was on sales tax returns for Gunsmoke for most months between January 2008 and October 2011, but not on individual tax returns from the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 -- because he didn't submit any. He did file a 2011 form listing a loss from Gunsmoke of more than $98,000 -- and presenting no other sources of income, despite the fact that the Discovery show was on the air at that time. The affidavit adds that "neither Gunsmoke Inc. nor Gunsmoke Guns Inc. has ever filed Federal Income tax returns."
Rich visits with Ted Nugent.
Another graphic shows what the agent believes is evidence of severe wage under-reporting. Over a five-year period, the highest paid person on the staff is shown to be Matthew Meece, who brought home a whopping $13,157.15 in 2007. Reported income for Rich and his wife, Renee, was less than $10,000 cumulatively during that stretch. Yet somehow, in 2012, they were able to buy a house in Evergreen for $678,000, with Renee paying $278,000 of that herself. She's also said to have purchased two Florida condominiums for a total of $338,000 despite reported adjusted gross income of $3,491 and $3,390 for the years 2008 and 2009, respectively.
That's not all. The affidavit, which is 35 pages long, lists plenty about a lavish lifestyle and fancy cars that don't jibe with the comparatively tiny amounts of moolah the Wyatts reported to the I.R.S.
U.S. Attorneys Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner declines to comment further about the report, citing the ongoing investigation. But as indicated by the affidavit, life for these reality TV staples appears to have gotten a lot more real.
Look below to see the complete document, followed by our previous coverage.
Update, 10:18 a.m. March 12: As we've reported, burglars got away with fifteen firearms during a burglary late last month at Gunsmoke Guns in Wheat Ridge, setting for the recently canceled Discovery Channel reality series American Guns; see our previous coverage below.
Since then, however, another law enforcement agency has descended on the store -- the I.R.S., whose agents came armed with a search warrant. The timing triggered suspicions in at least one blogger that the raid was politically motivated.
American Guns told the story of Gunsmoke owners Rich and Renee Wyatt and their kids, Kurt (seen above) and Paige. The ratings for the first two seasons of the program were solid, leading to expectations that a third would be launched. But last December, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the subsequent debate about guns and gun violence, Discovery pulled the plug on the program.
A couple of months later, during the early morning hours of February 27, a thief or thieves gained access to the shop through a hole in the roof. Witnesses saw a silver, two-door car drive away from the scene shortly before police arrived. An inventory later determined that twelve handguns and three rifles (but no assault weapons) were missing.
Reached this morning, Wheat Ridge Police Department Division Chief Joe Cassa says there have been no new developments in the case. Officers have yet to identify suspects or find the car. "Everything is status quo," he concedes while emphasizing that the investigation is continuing.
In the meantime, the Wyatts have concerns beyond being crime victims. On Friday, 7News reports, Internal Revenue Service reps executed a search warrant at Gunsmoke as part of what a spokesman described as a financial investigation.
The store was closed on Friday, but Cassa says it's his understanding it's back open for business as usual. He adds that the IRS inquiry will have no bearing on the Wheat Ridge PD's burglary inquiry.
But is it connected to something else -- like the Colorado gun legislation that's gotten national attention?
Paige and Kurt Wyatt.
Five bills continue to move forward at the State Capitol. latest: Yesterday, the Colorado Senate passed five measures, with one, about fees for background checks, headed to Governor John Hickenlooper's desk. The other four, including a limit on high-capacity magazines and a broadening of the background-check statute, face further debate in the House.
The subject of gun-control legislation has certainly whipped up passion among Second Amendment absolutists, and one -- Examiner.com blogger Timothy Miller, who writes under the title "Colorado Conservative Examiner" -- jumped on the Gunsmoke raid in a post headlined "Freedom of speech attacked by the IRS." He writes:
Currently, there is no way to ascertain the Wheat Ridge gun-shop owner's guilt or innocence. [Rich] Wyatt did, over the last several months, become increasingly critical of, and vocal about, proposed gun-control legislation and gun rights. Shortly thereafter exercising his right to freedom of speech, the small businessperson's retail location was raided by the IRS, and it's quite apparent, just like the Tea Party, Wyatt and Obama do not see eye-to-eye. There is no immediate proof that Wyatt's freedom of speech was limited by presidential bully-tactics, but Obama has been known to silence the opposition by using the IRS.
The initial media exposure was immense and local news outlets continue to cover the story daily. The question the media neglects to address is why, again, is a group or individual spoke publicly against the Obama administration's agenda aggressively investigated by the Internal Revenue? More importantly, is the IRS President Obama's private character assassination tool?
Here's a 7News piece about the IRS raid, followed by our previous coverage.
Update, 2:59 p.m. March 4: We recently told you about a burglary at Gunsmoke Guns, a Wheat Ridge business made famous by American Guns, a reality show on the Discovery Channel. The program was canceled late last year despite seemingly healthy ratings, leading to speculation that it was yanked from the schedule due to concerns about gun violence following incidents like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Now, the inventory at the shop is complete -- and the burglars definitely got away with a substantial haul.
According to the Wheat Ridge Police Department, twelve handguns and three rifles were presumably spirited away from the store by burglars thought to have gained entry to the business through a hole in the roof.
The WRPD adds that none of the items can be described as an "assault weapon." But there's no doubt about the lethality of what went missing.
Shortly after the robbery, which took place during the early hours of February 27, a witness saw a silver, two-door car drive out of the parking lot shortly before officers arrived in force, prompted by a silent alarm. However, no new information about the vehicle has been developed or released at this writing.
Anyone with info about the case is encouraged to dial the Wheat Ridge Police Department Tip Line at 303-235-2947. Look below for our previous coverage.
Original post, 2:29 p.m. February 28: It's been a rough patch for Wheat Ridge-based Gunsmoke Guns. First, American Guns, the Discovery Channel show set at the business, was cancelled in what some have interpreted as fallout from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
And now, the arms-heavy shop has been burglarized, with robbers getting away with a thus-far unknown number of things that go bang.
Here's the Discovery Channel description of American Guns for the launch of the show's second season:
The Wyatts are your typical suburban family who just happened to own one of the premiere firearms facilities in the world. Rich Wyatt and his wife Renee own Gunsmoke, located outside Denver, Colorado, where they buy, sell and trade guns -- from hand cannons to hunting rifles. And if you don't see what you want, they'll build one for you -- from nothing more than a block of metal. Gunsmoke has the largest and most experienced group of gunsmiths in the state. When the Wyatts aren't building or selling guns, they're shooting them. No gun leaves their shop without being test fired by the family first.
The Wyatt family.
This premise was not especially controversial at the time the program was launched. But according to a Fox News report published in December, American Guns' Facebook page was clobbered in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. This post is an example:
"I know you all have to make money but would Discovery Channel PLEASE consider ceasing to broadcast the show in the U.K.? Sadly your program makes buying/owning guns seem fun, glamorous, even normal," wrote one. Another tweeted, "Dear Discovery Channel: it's not appropriate showing the program American Guns now!" Another weighed in: "With Discovery shows like 'Sons of Guns', 'American Guns', 'Ted Nugent's Gun Country' etc it's not surprising how guns r seen as acceptable."
Shortly thereafter, the Fox News piece goes on, Discovery announced that the show had been cancelled and would not return for a third season -- this despite a 50 percent ratings increase from season one's debut to the second season launch and a statement from Renee Wyatt that a season three would definitely happen.
Gunsmoke Guns' notoriety remains, and given the amount of firepower inside, it's certainly an unlikely target for scofflaws. Indeed, the most recent crime connected to the store involved one Wylie Newton, who was accused of stealing an antique pistol in New Mexico and then trying to fence it at Gunsmoke.
Continue for more about Gunsmoke Guns, including robbery details, photos and videos. Here's a look at the gun in question -- a Colt Dragoon black powder revolver that dates to the 1800s and is valued at $20,000, according to the Wheat Ridge Police Department. It was stolen from a private museum in New Mexico in December 2011:
That same month, a man named "Wylie" popped up on an episode of American Guns trying to sell a couple of museum-quality antique revolvers. A viewer subsequently alerted police about this cameo appearance, and officers set up a sting operation that ensnared Newton, an Erie resident. He was busted on a New Mexico warrant.
The incident that took place yesterday struck much closer to home. At around 4:12 a.m., according to the Wheat Ridge Police Department, Gunsmoke's silent alarm was triggered. Uniformed officers rushed to the scene, but by the time they arrived, the person or persons who'd set it off were gone.
The outside of Gunsmoke Guns.
Still, cops have a pretty good idea how they'd gained entry. There was a big hole in the roof.
Officers later tracked down a witness who reported seeing a silver two-door car leaving the Gunsmoke parking lot around the time the alarm went off, but could provide no description of anyone inside it.
At this writing, we don't know precisely what was taken from the shop -- how many guns or what type. But agents and investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are on the case, assisting the WRPD.
Look below to see an American Guns promo clip, as well as a video in support of the Second Amendment that's posted on Gunsmoke's home page.
More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Wylie Newton charged with stealing antique gun from museum, trying to sell it on TV."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.