Rich Wyatt's reversal of fortune has taken place in slow motion.
Five years ago, he was a reality TV star thanks to American Guns, a popular Discovery Channel program that showcased him, his telegenic family (wife Renee and kids Paige and Kurt) and his business, Gunsmoke Guns in Wheat Ridge.
But American Guns was canceled in December 2012,
And the following year, Wyatt's legal problems went public, culminating yesterday in his indictment on accusations of conspiracy, dealing in firearms without a license and tax-related charges.
Here's the Discovery Channel description of American Guns for the launch of the show's second season, from our previous coverage:
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.
This premise was not especially controversial at the time the program was launched. But according to a Fox News report published in December 2012, American Guns' Facebook page was clobbered in the immediate aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. 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.
The downward spiral continued on February 27, 2013, when a thief or thieves broke into Gunsmoke Guns through a hole in the roof, spiriting away twelve handguns and three rifles. And the following week, the shop was briefly closed after I.R.S. agents arrived, armed with a search warrant.
In the document, on view below, the agent filing it offered 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 stated 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 had long been thought to own Gunsmoke, a certain Victor Rodriguez was 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 later 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 added that "neither Gunsmoke Inc. nor Gunsmoke Guns Inc. has ever filed Federal Income tax returns."
Another graphic showed what the agent believed was evidence of severe wage under-reporting. Over a five-year period, the highest paid person on the staff was 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, listed plenty about a lavish lifestyle and fancy cars that didn't jibe with the comparatively tiny amounts of moolah the Wyatts reported to the I.R.S.
Despite this information, Gunsmoke remained in operation. But on March 31, 2015, IRS agents, accompanied by colleagues from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, raided the shop again.
Shortly thereafter, the Wheat Ridge Police Department announced that Wyatt had been named on an arrest warrant for theft from an at-risk adult.
According to the WRPD, the victim in the case "had consigned a rare and antique gun collection with Wyatt in 2013," after which "repeated efforts by the victim at recovering several of the weapons had failed." However, a department release continued, "several of the stolen guns" were recovered by ATF agents during the most recent raid, described as having been prompted by "an unrelated, ongoing federal investigation."
Wyatt turned himself in to the cops in Wheat Ridge on April 10 of last year, but the federal investigation continued — and this week, it finally came to fruition, with a grand jury passing down indictments.
On February 17, 2012, the U.S. Attorney's Office maintains, "Wyatt conspired with others known to the grand jury but not named, to deal in firearms without a license." Wyatt surrendered his federal firearms license the following April, but he continued to operate Gunsmoke Guns.
How? "Wyatt directed Gunsmoke employees to enter firearm sales in Gunsmoke’s computer point of sales software system as 'miscellaneous' sales rather than firearm sales," prosecutors maintain, adding, "After receiving payment for any firearms, Gunsmoke employees directed the customers to another firearm store which had a valid federal firearms license, where the customer filled out the background check paperwork and the customers took possession of the firearm(s) they had purchased at Gunsmoke."
Then there's the tax matter. An excerpt from the U.S. Attorney's Office release reads:
Wyatt failed to pay personal income tax in years 2009, when he made approximately $290,000, in 2010 when he made approximately $123,000, and in 2012, when he made approximately $689,000. Further, in 2010, 2011, and 2012, Wyatt failed to pay corporate taxes. In 2012, Wyatt willfully filed a tax return he knew to be false, stating that he lost money, when in fact he made at least $184,000 that he failed to disclose. The defendant also faces an asset forfeiture count, including but not limited to the forfeiture of firearms and ammunition involved in the commission of the alleged crimes.
Yesterday, Wyatt turned himself in to authorities prior to appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kristen L. Mix. At the hearing, Wyatt was advised of the charges against him and assigned a court-appointed attorney — an indication that the money isn't flowing the way it once was. Judge Mix then ordered Wyatt held without bond at least until a hearing on February 16 at which he'll enter a plea.
Look below to see Wyatt's Wheat Ridge booking photo, the 2013 search warrant affidavit, a CBS4 report about the latest developments and a vintage video promoting American Guns.