UPDATE (11/5/10): Please see correction and clarification regarding this article.
In the dark fantasies of comic books, villains with pathological intent maniacally plot to build super-weapons to decimate cities, countries, and even planets. In Hollywood movies, the corrupt and evil plot to build cop-killing firearms to bring anarchy and chaos to our streets.
Now imagine, if you can, a convicted kidnapper — with additional arrests for communicating threats and simple assault — acquiring not just a weapon or two, but an entire gun company while the federal government stood idly by.
Imagine that this same felon then started another gun company from scratch, and then used that company to acquire a third company that was licensed to build machine guns. Imagine further he was given a concealed carry license, and that local law enforcement and federal agents turned a blind eye to everything.
This isn’t the latest reboot of RoboCop or Lethal Weapon, but the extraordinary alleged real-life story of Lee Franklin Booth, 51, a Greensboro, North Carolina, resident with an incredibly checkered past.
According to the North Carolina Department of Correction Offender Public Information web site, Booth was convicted of second-degree kidnapping on September 24, 1981, and was imprisoned from that date until his early release on December 30, 1985.
In the quarter-century since his release from prison, Booth has been a very busy man.
Many of those who have crossed paths with him refer to Booth as a con man. He is perhaps best-known for his role in the downfall of Pace Airlines. Pace was once known as Hooters Air, the ill-conceived project of the Hooters restaurant mogul Bob Brooks. William Rogers, Sr. bought the airline and mismanaged it, and has been charged in a criminal case for his role in the collapse of the airline which cost 423 employees their jobs. Rogers and Booth, who all but forced Rogers out of the company at the end, are the target of an on-going bankruptcy case that alleges breaches in their “fiduciary duties” as the top officials of the company.
But the most damning — and extraordinary — actions of Mr. Booth aren’t his dealings with Pace or his kidnapping conviction (or how he became a company officer in any company in a day and age where a simple background check would disclose his criminal background). Instead, they are his stunning acquisitions of a trio of gun companies. Just as stunning is the federal government’s incompetence or corruption that allowed such a glaring failure of public safety to occur.
The first confirmed gun company Booth acquired was Detonics USA.
“Detonics” has a long and storied history as a firearms brand, emerging decades ago as the innovator of the compact 1911 .45 ACP handgun. The company originated in Seattle in the late 1970s, and thrived until insurance costs began to escalate in the 1980s. Instead of terminating the brand, the Detonics founders elected to license the company’s intellectual property and to allow third parties to continue manufacturing and selling the gun.
In 2004, Detonics USA (owned by George Skipper) was a licensee manufacturing Detonics firearms. In the spring of 2007, under apparently fraudulent conditions, Lee Booth acquired Detonics from Skipper.
Booth fashioned himself the CEO, secretary, and CFO of Detonics USA Industries. Booth allegedly took delivery of “500 weapons and thousands of gun parts” as part of the deal, and then liquidated the company of assets and failed to pay the employees. Skipper took Booth to court, and reacquired control of the company in the summer of 2007.
The moment Booth took possession of those weapons and parts, he should have immediately been subject to arrest for violating 18 U.S.C. 922(g) which prohibits “anyone ever convicted of any felony to ever possess any firearm either inside or outside of his home.” For reasons still unknown, law enforcement has never acted against Booth, even though Booth has allegedly failed a Georgia court’s order to return Detonics USA gun parts assets.
After being forced to give up Detonics USA, Lee Booth started another gun company — Victory Arms. The company web site claims that they build “the finest 1911 handguns and AR style rifles available today.” Booth’s involvement in Victory would seem to be another automatic violation of U.S.C. 922(g) against felons owning firearms. Sources claim that in creating the company, Booth filed for a Federal Firearms License (FFL) for Victory under his own name. Denied the FFL (which, again, should have resulted in his arrest), Victory once again filed for an FFL under the name of a Victory employee, and was successful.
This is a baffling case of either corruption or sheer incompetence, as by this time federal authorities knew that Booth was a principal in the company.