A quick glance at his own surveillance footage told Mel "Dragon Man" Bernstein he was the victim of an inside job.
The storied proprietor of the Dragon Man gun shop and shooting range east of Colorado Springs on Wednesday identified Jennifer Scoggin - the daughter of Bernstein's ex-wife - as the ringleader behind an August smash-and-grab burglary in which thieves made off with 84 pistols and rifles and two machine guns.
Scoggin, 34, and her son, Camron Matthew Specht, 18, were among four people secretly indicted last month on weapons charges by a federal grand jury, records show.
The indictments - handed up on Sept. 14 - were kept sealed until Tuesday, when the first of the defendants made an initial appearance before a federal magistrate, court records show. The other two men charged in the scheme are Ryan Sharpe and Gian Carlos Vance. El Paso County prosecutors disclosed the indictment in 4th Judicial District Court Wednesday while announcing they were dropping the case against Specht and letting the federal authorities take over.
According to Bernstein, the five planned to sell the weapons to Pueblo gang members.
"Imagine if those guns had been used to kill somebody," he said. Bernstein said he was given a copy of a transcript of Specht's confession in which the teenager said his mother mapped out the scheme. Bernstein said one person remains at large, which The Gazette was unable to confirm.
The theft from Dragonman was among a spree of similar burglaries at gun shops across Colorado this year. Most have been solved, said U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeffrey Dorschner.
"There have been at least 10 individuals indicted and multiple others charged at state level for those crimes, he said.
Lisa Meiman, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Denver, said the burglaries were a top priority for the agency but declined to say how many remained open.
Although the indictment offers little insight into how the crimes were committed, the 71-year-old gun store owner described a bold scheme reminiscent of the fabled Trojan horse. It all began with Scoggin calling him out of the blue, two years after his divorce from her mother, and offering to take him to dinner to get caught up, he said.
Before picking him up in her Jeep, however, Scoggin sneaked the crew of four masked burglars onto his property, dropping them off behind his business, Bernstein said. The crew hid for several minutes until Bernstein and Scoggin left for dinner. Then they got to work - using his own Dodge Power Wagon to blast through a fence and a garage door into his business.
The crew ran around stuffing weapons into duffel bags in a heist captured from multiple angles on store surveillance, Bernstein said.
Scoggin, who was texting through their dinner at Culver's in Falcon, even asked to make an additional trip to Walmart to allow her son and the others to make a second trip to Dragonman, Bernstein alleged.
"She says, 'I'm talking to my husband, Kevin, who is out of state,'" he said.
All of the weapons taken were recovered from a vacant house that Bernstein helped purchase for his ex-wife, he said, including an M16 machine gun and an M11 submachine gun. The other firearms were semiautomatic pistols and rifles.
Bernstein has a federal firearms license that allows him to own and sell automatic weapons, which are otherwise tightly controlled under federal law.
The burglary marked the first gun theft from the Dragonman store since it was established in 1982, but the second time this year that a member of his ex-wife's family tried to steal from him.
Bernstein said that Scoggin's brother, Jesse Specht, broke into his garage in January by a similar means - ramming a vehicle through the garage door - before taking a toolbox that he thought contained cash. Records confirm that Specht faces a pending burglary case.
Bernstein, who took his nickname from a custom Harley-Davidson with a dragon's head that spews flames, lives on the property and said security measures include 36 surveillance cameras and seven German shepherds that are allowed to roam when he's not at home.
"I didn't think anybody would be stupid enough," he said.