By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Gov. Rick Scott’s administration offered $162,000 in state tax breaks to bring to South Florida the manufacturer of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, even though the U.S. had imposed sanctions against Russian-made military assault weapons.
The Department of Economic Opportunity signed the tax refund deal with the owner of Kalashnikov USA – RWC Group LLC – in October 2015. Taxpayer money was offered under the department’s qualified target industry program that looks to create jobs in exchange for state benefits. In this case, the target industry the governor was trying to attract is listed as “small arms manufacturing.”
President Barack Obama imposed sanctions against Russia’s Concern Kalashnikov in July 2014 after Russia did not end the Ukraine conflict. Since then, its former American counterpart has worked “to transform our company and staff from an importer and…compliant conversion specialist, to a full-fledged manufacturer,” according Kalashnikov USA’s website.
Since Scott’s first year in office, the governor has sought to bring gun makers to Florida. In 2011, for example, he promised $1.6 million in incentives to Colt Manufacturing Co. to open a plant and add 63 jobs in Osceola County to build AR-15 rifles, like the one police say was used in last week’s slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Scott and the Second Amendment
“As a supporter of new job creation and the Second Amendment, this announcement sends a clear message that Florida is both open for business and a defender of our right to bear arms,” said Scott, adding that he was personally involved in bringing Colt to Florida.
The Colt deal was later terminated because Colt didn’t bring the promised jobs.
On Wednesday, Scott’s office took issue with an earlier headline that said Scott had skirted the sanctions.
Scott spokesman McKinley P. Lewis said American companies that qualify for state incentives get offered them without exception. “If you check all the boxes, the company is eligible,” he said.
ABC News and others have reported that Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old gunman charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder, owned an AK-47 in addition to the AR-15 he purchased at Sunrise Tactical Supply Inc. in Coral Springs. It is not known where Cruz purchased that weapon, but Kalashnikov USA’s website lists Sunrise Tactical as one of six “direct dealers” in the Florida peninsula.
Kalashnikov USA did not respond to a detailed request for comment.
Since 2013, Adams Arms has collected most of the $208,800 in state tax refund money it was promised for creating jobs in Pasco County. Adams’s website boasts it has “the industry’s first and only patented retrofit kit for the AR 15 platform that makes it a relevant weapon of the future.”
Florida friendly to gun makers
Tax refunds aren’t the only way Florida has been friendly to gun makers.
In early 2016, at Scott’s urging, the Legislature eliminated the tax on commercial manufacturing equipment. An executive with Naples-based Azimuth Technology, which makes precision firearms components for AR-15s and other firearms, told the Naples Daily News later that year that it had saved his company more than $200,000.
Scott is an Azimuth fan. In 2015, he specifically touted job growth at the company in a press release that neglected to mention that Azimuth made gun parts. Azimuth’s website says it has produced “hundreds of thousands of precision Bolt Carrier Groups,” the so-called “heart” of the AR-15.
The Naples newspaper story, written two months after the murder of 49 people at an Orlando gay club, also cited U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data that revealed a startling increase in the number of gun manufacturers in Florida. From 2009 to 2016, the number of gun manufacturing licenses in Florida more than quadrupled from 155 to 691.
On Tuesday, Gov. Scott was holding a high-profile series of workshops with a cross-section of Florida leaders searching for ways to keep students safe in the wake of the Valentine’s Day massacre of high school students in Parkland. The proliferation of arms manufacturers in Florida was not on the agenda.
Concern Kalashnikov, which describes itself as a key branch of Russia’s “military-industrial complex,” is owned 51 percent by Rostec, a state holding company, and 49 percent by private investors, according to its website.
Court records filed in a business dispute in Broward Circuit Court identify Kalashnikov USA as holding the U.S. license to manufacture and sell Kalashnikov firearms. Pennsylvania corporate records say that RWC Group LLC, of Tullytown, PA, owns it.
Florida corporate records identify RWC’s managers as Eldad Oz, Michael Tiraturian and Peter Viskovatykh.
Kalashnikov USA is located in the Pompano Distribution Center at 3901 NE 12th Ave., east of North Dixie Highway. Operating out of the same location are Command Arms and Accessories (CAA) and another firm called Hartman, according to a pre-recorded answering service message. Those two companies do not appear to be registered with the Secretary of State’s office.
Kalashnikov USA and CAA USA jointly announced plans to relocate from Pennsylvania to South Florida in an April 2015 press release. The reasons weren’t discussed.
In September of that year, Pompano Beach announced that the “importer, assembler, tester and distributor of firearms” had relocated into a 40,000-square-foot facility.
CAA, led by Eldad Oz and his brother, Moshe, also has an office in Qiryat Gat, Israel.
Veteran Israeli commando
A February 2017 article published by Israel’s Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs identifies Moshe, then 49, as a nearly two-decade veteran of elite Israeli commando units. Records show that Moshe Oz holds a half-dozen patents for various firearms accessories.
A patent for a new kind of optic sight was issued last April to Hartman Optics Ltd of Israel. Its inventors are listed as Moshe Oz and Michael “Mickey” Hartman. Hartman is a retired colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s contract with RWC called for the company to create 54 jobs in the state with an annualized wage of at least $51,266.
The contract was later terminated, and no money was paid to RWC, but the reasons why are unclear. Also not known: whether the company collected $32,400 in local incentives that were to be part of the deal.
Since taking office, Gov. Scott has made job creation a centerpiece of his administration. His office web site keeps a running list of private sector jobs it says Florida has added since December 2010. The total on Tuesday was 1,497,100.