Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Van Wagenen Finance Co. in Orem was the site of gun sales that are under investigation. The owner is accused of failing to complete background checks.

OREM — An Orem pawnshop owner whose store has been around more than 30 years faces 19 felony charges for allegedly selling handguns unlawfully.

Norman Van Wagenen, owner of Van Wagenen Finance Co., 953 S. State, was charged Feb. 13 in 4th District Court with third-degree felonies of unlawful sale by a dealer for failing to complete the necessary background checks as required by law, said Deputy Utah County Attorney Chad Grunander.

His first appearance in 4th District Court will be March 5.

However, Van Wagenen and his attorney, James "Mitch" D. Vilos, believe that any errors discovered through the October 2006 audit by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are innocent mistakes, not a deliberate disregard for rules.

"The Van Wagenen Finance Company has ... had hundreds of thousands of gun sales," Vilos said. "As far as I know, the vast majority have been absolutely legal and perfectly maintained. We're looking at the allegations closely, trying to figure out how some of those records were less than perfect."

Investigator Phil Leiker with the Bureau of Criminal Identification said he got the case from ATF, then forwarded the case to the Utah County Attorney's Office for state charges.

Leiker said the audit by ATF officers found some "discrepancies" during the time frame of April to September 2006, which included guns being released to purchasers before a background check was completed.

"We're just trying to find out exactly what happened," Vilos said. "These gun dealers get extremely busy. When you have multiple sales going on at the same time, sometimes you make mistakes."

But Grunander doesn't believe the actions were mistakes.

"In order for us to pursue this charge, we need to establish that his conduct was done willfully and intentionally," Grunander said. "We are confident that we can prove this case at trial."

The 19 charges are related to the sale of 19 handguns, Grunander said. He could not comment on the status of any of the purchasers of the guns but said the buyers are not being investigated for any wrongdoing.

Vilos said there is a possibility that someone whose record should have precluded them from purchasing a gun bought a weapon during the time in question, but that person had drug-related charges, not violent charges, Vilos said.

"We don't think they're going to find anything where anybody who was dangerous ended up with a gun who should not have had one," Vilos said.

Van Wagenen still has his license to sell guns, Vilos said, as ATF has allowed him to wait until the case is resolved before imposing licensure implications.

E-mail: [email protected]