Among the many yarns of folklore traversing the annals of South L.A. are the misadventures of street hoodlum extraordinaire Ronald Washington (AKA “Muscle Beach” as an homage to his chiseled physique), who stepped into the big time, when he engineered the heist of an old Wells Fargo at 3423 W. 43rd Place in Leimert Park. He walked into the bank brandishing a pistol, and absconded with some $60,000 on the back of a motorcycle. Although he was summarily apprehended and given 15 years in the big house, he earned himself a spot in the pantheon of South Central’s Dirty Deeds.

As for Wells Fargo, they survived this financial set back, and continue to prosper as one of the nation’s leading financial companies.

In 1992, the building itself was sold to a pair of newly expatriated siblings from Iran, who operated a pawn shop for several years before going into the firearms retail trade, doing business as Botach Tactical Arms (officially owned by Barkochba Botach, informally known as “B.K.”). Its website promotes the business as “your one stop cop shop,” as a supplier of military and tactical paraphernalia to the law enforcement community, with the former bank vault serving as a secure depository for weapons and armaments.

Jackie Ryan, proprietor of Zambezi Bazaar, a retail gift shop, has had only positive interactions with B.K., in spite of his unique line of commerce.

“He is in compliance with the laws of the city of Los Angeles,” she notes.

As part of the community, she regularly mingles with other store owners who have become tenants of Botach as he has expanded his holdings around Leimert Park.

“They don’t consider him a bad landlord,” she states, alluding to his reputation for reasonable rents and upkeep of his properties.

A question of legality

Botach Tactical made it into the press headlines again recently, when the Los Angeles City Attorney successfully convicted them of illegally selling firearms with high capacity magazines (holding 17 rounds each) to a security guard who did not have the proper credentials as a peace officer. This individual allegedly acted as a “straw purchaser” for an acquaintance, who then used it the gun in the commission of a homicide.

Straw purchases occur when persons buy a good or service for other individuals who are unable/unwilling to make that purchase for themselves. This scenario came up in the aftermath of Dec. 2015 San Bernardino shootings, in which a friend of the perpetrators who carried out the actual crimes initially purchased the assault rifles used to kill 14 people and injure 22. In that situation, the question of the legal transfer of the weaponry is being debated.

The Botach family patriarch, Yoav, is considered one of the state’s wealthiest men, to the tune of several hundreds of millions of dollars, a standing brought to light during the course of a messy 2006 palimony suit by his wife, Judith Boteach (the family changed its spelling for practical purposes, a common practice among immigrants to America) which revealed his ownership of some 140 properties in L.A. County alone. The family includes a prominent Rabbi on the Westside, and kinship ties to AEY Inc., another provocative arms company in Miami, Fla., with alleged ties to (possibly) underhanded munitions transactions with the U.S. Army and other military entities (including providing substandard ammunition during the ongoing debacle in Afghanistan) around the world.

The family’s penchant for controversy exists on the local, national, and global level.

Enjoying a lucrative existence, Botach has purchased additional properties in the neighborhood to augment its firearms trade, including the site of the old “Total Experience” night club, to house the overflow from its inventory. Other real estate holdings exclude the sale of guns, and Botach serves as landlord to other, miscellaneous business including Eso Won Books.

The existence of this type of business has, in turn, whetted the appetite of the more nefarious elements in the community as well, accordingly to gang intervention specialists.

Local gang-bangers have long daydreamed about breaking into Botach to steal its contents (and utilize them for future criminal undertakings). Some enterprising ne’er-do-wells went to the point of obtaining the building assessors parcel number, and went to downtown’s Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to secure blueprints featuring the structure’s layout. These immoral fantasies never reached fruition, however, as the reality of fearsome fortifications like roof top vibration sensors, high definition security cameras and the like have stifled these disreputable urges.

Aside from misgivings among the business community in which it is located, Botach has earned animosity from its client base; despite devoting its patronage to law enforcement individuals (no walk in traffic is involved). A cursory glance at customer feedback on the Internet reveals scores of client complaints, showcasing a dismal record of customer service going back years. In addition to these chronic episodes of dissatisfaction, the firm has raised the ire of bureaucratic concerns, such as the Better Business Bureau and the California Attorney General’s Office.

Community sentiment

The majority of the Leimert Park citizenry is, of course, law abiding and anxious to maintain a semblance of respectability in their neighborhood. Initially developed by Walter Leimert who gave the community his name, Japanese, then African Americans integrated it through the 1950s, evolving into an eclectic enclave championed by devotees as a center of art and culture.

Since Botach’s establishment in the community, rumors and innuendo about this potentially incendiary business have reached the ears of the political representatives of the area, compelling them to act. Early in January of 2005, a contingent of concerned citizens led by Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43), assembled in front of the unmarked façade and demanded entry inside. One of those accompanying her, Dr. Sandra Moore is a long-term activist in the greater Los Angeles area. She recalls the shop’s proprietor reluctantly allowing Waters inside, where she found a cache of C-4 plastic explosives, dynamite, hand grenades and other explosive paraphernalia.

Other politicians who have questioned the appropriateness of an arms dealer in the neighborhood have included former Rep. Diane Watson. However, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms have stated in investigations that everything on the premise and the company in general were in order, meaning that they had no good reason to deny Botach its license.

Others with businesses in the area take exception to Ryan’s upbeat opinion of B.K. Botach.

One in particular voiced reservations about gun dealer’s presence in the area.

“It’s not a good use of real estate in this community.”

This view is coupled with allegations of strong-arm tactics against those who speak against the arms supplier, along with the wish for more retail outlets in its place.

“I’m just against guns being sold in the area,” said the anonymous neighbor.

Reached by phone, Eso Won Bookstore proprietor James Fugate takes issue with many of his neighbors who criticize Botach, even to the point of suggesting that some of the local outrage against him may stem from anti-Semitism.

“A lot of these people that talk about what they want in the community haven’t done anything personally (to accomplish progress),” he notes.

Prior to Botach’s entry into the area, Fugate remembers the property lying vacant for four long years.

“We could use more businesses, and less talk about what goes on in the community,” he goes on.

To Botach’s credit, Fugate points out it has provided employment for Blacks, saying that the I.T. (information technology) person is African American, as well as the head of customer services.

Rather than bad-mouthing the nature of Botach’s business, Fugate proposes the naysayer come up with workable solutions to combat the community’s deficits.

“We need to support what’s here,” he suggests, to those who want the arms supplier out.

“Replace him with what? They haven’t done s—!”

As far as the conviction against Botach Tactical Inc. for violating California gun laws, sentencing will be handed down on June 6.