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Loaded questions for the ATF

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Over an early April lunch at a downtown haunt, former City Councilman Bill Guman and I trade stories. He tells me a doozy about having his gun stolen over a year ago, hearing that it wound up in the hands of a bad guy, and then, well, he doesn't know. He hasn't heard anything from authorities since last September.

"I just want my gun back," he says.

Though tracking lost guns isn't part of my job description, I figure, what the heck. I offer to help.

After all, I'm curious: Why wasn't he hearing anything? Did the case ever go to trial?

As I pursued more information, I learned that being the victim of a crime didn't warrant Bill Guman any special treatment. And though he's served on City Council and still is well-connected around town, what happened to him probably is typical of what any citizen would endure.

This tale begins on Jan. 29, 2009, after work when Guman pulls into his garage in the Sierra Ridge area. Before he can close the garage door and take his .38 Smith and Wesson revolver into the house as he usually does, his wife, Cathy, dashes out saying, "I'm taking your car to the drugstore."

When she returns, she forgets to shut the garage door.

Around midnight, Guman's two Rottweilers, Fenwick and Abbie, go off. Neither he nor Cathy think much of it. But the next morning, Guman finds a glove from his car on the garage floor and his gun missing from the driver's side pocket.

He calls the police immediately.

A bag of Crown Royal

On May 11, 2009, William James Rucker, 35, who's been in and out of El Paso County jail 20 times since 1993, strolls into the Crosslands Economy hotel in southeast Colorado Springs with a lady friend to rent a room.

After they leave the lobby, the clerk notices a Crown Royal bag on the lobby coffee table. Inside, she finds a loaded silver handgun. She puts it in the safe and calls the cops. Police later arrest Rucker, caught on surveillance video entering the lobby with the bag, according to police reports.

When the cops find Rucker has a prior record, they call the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Guman's gun is just one of the 1,761 they'll trace and recover in Colorado in 2009, including six machine guns and a silencer. Pretty scary.

A few hours later, behind closed doors with an ATF agent, Rucker admits he possessed Guman's stolen gun. Which is bad for him, because it's a federal crime for a felon to possess a firearm or ammo. And Rucker is a five-time loser, convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, possession of drugs, sale of drugs, criminal impersonation and attempted possession of a weapon by a previous offender.

The gun, meantime, is placed "into evidence."

On June 9, 2009, Rucker is indicted by a federal grand jury and a week later moved from county jail to a federal holding facility.

In September, Guman gets a call from an ATF agent, who says Rucker is scheduled to stand trial in January.

"He also told me I would get the gun back after the trial," Guman tells me. "I have not heard back from anyone since."

Guman paid $500 for that gun, for which he had a concealed weapons permit, one of 15,321 issued in El Paso County, the most of any county in Colorado.

My first call is to Springs Police. Sgt. Steve Noblitt eventually retrieves the burglary reports, charging me $12.

The ATF is more elusive. I call ATF public information officer Craig Roegner on April 16 and leave a message about why I'm calling. No response. I call again on April 23. No response.

"That's the same situation I was in," Guman says. "... There was no communication, and I had been told that the matter would go to court in January. All I wanted to do is find out, did it go to court?"

By April 28, I'm wondering, WTF? I call the general ATF number and am told someone will call me that day and if not, I should call back. At 4:15 p.m., I call back, and agent Brad Beyersdorf assures me Guman will get his gun.

"It just takes time in the federal system for these things to work through the system," he says, adding, "Are you quoting me?"

"Yes," I say.

"Then I guess I can't talk to you," Beyersdorf says. "I will make sure [Roegner] gives you a call."

'Do you have kids?'

A half-hour later, Roegner calls, and, man, is he hot.

He practically shouts that Rucker was sentenced to 17 years in early April, that the government has to wait for a 30-day appeal time to elapse before closing the case and that then, Guman can have his gun back.

"Do you have kids?" Roegner suddenly barks at me.

"No," I say.

"Have you ever been through a divorce?" he snarls.

"No," I say.

"Well, I'm going through a custody battle, so I'm sorry I didn't call back," he says angrily. "You didn't make a friend by calling my boss."

A real public servant, this guy.

At least Guman knows a little more. If there's no appeal, he might get his gun back very soon. But if Rucker appeals, who knows? Appeals can take a long time.

Looking back, Guman feels bad his garage door was left open that night 17 months ago.

"Do these guys cruise neighborhoods looking for open garage doors?" he asks.

When I relay that question to Noblitt, he's emphatic.

"Yeah, they do."

zubeck@csindy.com

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