Rich Wyatt, the star of American Guns, a once-popular Discovery Channel program that showcased him, his telegenic family, including wife Renee and kids Paige and Kurt, and his business, Wheat Ridge's Gunsmoke Guns, has been sentenced to 78 months, or six and a half years, in prison for conspiring to deal firearms without a license and multiple tax charges.
The verdict, which was delivered nearly a year after Wyatt was found guilty of these offenses, represents the ultimate comedown for a once-prominent TV personality who rubbed shoulders with celebrities such as rock star Ted Nugent and even a former president of the United States, George W. Bush.
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 show 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.
"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 person. Another tweeted, "Dear Discovery Channel: it's not appropriate showing the program American Guns now!" A third person weighed in similarly: "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 canceled 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 IRS agents arrived, armed with a search warrant.
In an affidavit for the warrant, accessible below, the agent filing the document offered a straightforward 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 Wyatt "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 those 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 whose name was on the paperwork, though 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 a 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 IRS.
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, 2015, but the federal investigation continued — and in February 2016, it finally came to fruition, with a grand jury passing down indictments.
On February 17, 2012, the U.S. Attorney's Office maintained, "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-sale software system as 'miscellaneous' sales rather than firearm sales," prosecutors stated, 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 were the tax matters. The U.S. Attorney's Office held that "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."
Approximately a year later, Wyatt was placed on trial before U.S. District Court Marcia Krieger — but the case against him didn't turn out to be a slam dunk. The proceedings lasted six days, with the jury deliberating for five more before delivering a mixed verdict. Wyatt was found guilty of two conspiracy beefs and eight tax charges, with jurors unable to agree on three other tax counts.
Afterward, Wyatt, who had been free on bond prior to the trial, was immediately taken into custody in advance of sentencing that was originally scheduled for July 19. However, the hammer didn't officially come down until yesterday, March 8, with Krieger handing Wyatt the aforementioned 78-month jolt, plus three years of supervised-release probation.
The total number of firearms involved in Wyatt's various offenses: 490.
In a statement about the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said, "A man has to make a choice, and Wyatt chose wrong. Unless your ambition is to serve a long sentence in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, selling guns illegally and cheating on your taxes are going to be bad choices."
Added Steve Osborne, the IRS criminal investigation special agent in charge of the Denver field office: "Even television reality stars are not exempt from the reality of our nation’s tax laws." In his view, the sentencing "is a reminder that there are detrimental consequences for this type of criminal behavior."
Click to read the Gunsmoke Guns search warrant affidavit.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.