For Lucky Jhagra, collecting guns turned from a hobby to an obsessive compulsion that landed the 41-year-old Saanich man in prison.
Jhagra pleaded guilty on Tuesday to seven charges related to stealing 148 firearms from his employer, Island Outfitters, and then selling 13 of the weapons to people in Victoria and across Canada. Judge Sue Wishart sentenced him to two years and he was taken into custody.
Crown and defence lawyers agreed on a two year sentence based on the brazen theft of so many dangerous weapons and the illegal and sloppy way they were stored at his Shelbourne Street home.
The crimes were mitigated by the fact that he only sold guns to licenced buyers and the sales were documented with the proper authorities. He also produced 42 letters of support attesting to his upstanding character, despite the thefts.
Saanich police investigators recovered all 148 handguns, semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, including the 13 sold to customers as far away as Nova Scotia, in part thanks to the now-defunct long-gun registry.
Those guns will be returned to Island Outfitters, plus Jhagra’s 27 legally owned guns, worth $13,000 to $15,000, as part of the restitution order. The stolen guns had a retail value of about $270,000 and the weapons he sold summed to $12,840.
“I can’t imagine how shocked the authorities were in the number and type of weapons found in Mr. Jhagra’s home,” Wishart remarked. “It’s fortunate they didn’t fall into the wrong hands.”
“His only explanation he offered is that he always had an interest in firearms. Over time, the interest became a fascination, then became an obsession that became a pathology,” said Jhagra’s lawyer Andrew Tam. “His addiction to obtaining firearms overcame his sense of right and wrong. It began with one firearm, then another and another, and it snowballed into the collection.”
Jhagra, a firearms instructor who grew up in Victoria, began working at Island Outfitters in 2008, and quickly moved into a position of trust overseeing firearm sales. According to a statement of facts entered in court, he began stealing weapons in 2009 after he found a flaw in the store’s inventory system that allowed him to order guns, but log the number of weapons in stock to zero.
A general audit of the store in February 2012 unveiled the scam. Saanich officers found an arsenal where he lived in the basement suite of his parent’s house, and in the garage.
Forty-five of the guns were stored in the open without trigger locks, such as the Bushmaster rifle found propped behind his living room door, and handguns on the floor. He also had about 15,000 round of ammo on the property.
“These are very powerful weapons, some military-style weapons,” Crown prosecutor Trevor Shaw told the court. “They were stolen and stored unsafely as well. ... He had the ability to arm a small insurrection.”
Shaw noted that the theft damaged the reputation of Island Outfitters as a business and within the gun-owning community. He read to the court statements from the store owners that indicated that the betrayal cut deep, that they have lost trust in their employees, and feared more thefts were happening under their noses.
Both had pondered shutting down the business in the wake of the high-profile theft.
Jhagra wept as Tam read his client’s apology letters into the record, written to the owners and manager of the store.
“(The thefts) were never malicious. They were not bad bosses,” Jhagra told the court. “I did it because I like guns. I know it sounds stupid, but I like this stuff. I didn’t think about right or wrong, I didn’t think about the consequences.”
Jhagra pleaded guilty to two counts of theft over $5,000, two counts of possessing a weapon obtained through an offence, unlawful storage of weapons, and two counts of laundering proceeds of a crime.
He is required to repay his victims and has a lifetime ban from owning weapons.