The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office is investigating two former Ukiah Gun Club board members in connection with the suspected embezzlement of club funds.
Law enforcement served a search warrant March 31 on a property where the board’s former president, Audie Norbury, and his girlfriend, former board treasurer Penny Mathis, reside. Mathis’ ex-husband also lives on the property and was subjected to the search.
“I have been informed by law enforcement that it seized office equipment, tools, reloading supplies, firearms, ammunition, documents and many other items of property during the execution of the search warrant,” current club President Mike Whetzel wrote in a recent email sent to the club’s 1,200 members. A source close to the investigation confirmed search warrants were served in connection with suspected embezzlement.
A spokesman for the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office said the investigation is continuing and nothing has been sent to the office for review.
The search warrant is the latest twist in a nearly three-year battle within the organization, whose members include many from Sonoma County. The club’s membership has grown as other clubs around the state and country have closed because of the lead contamination they caused and neighborhood opposition to gunfire.
Neither Norbury, Mathis nor her ex-husband would comment. But in a Dec. 16 email to members, Norbury denied any wrongdoing.
“I am completely devastated and angry about these allegations,” he wrote. “I love the gun club and put many hours into making the gun club a better place for all its members.”
But a group was formed to confront irregularities that members thought put the gun club at risk of losing its nonprofit status and its property lease from the city of Ukiah.
The gun club strife began quietly about three years ago with a few members demanding that meeting rules — including requirements to post agendas — be followed and financial documents released.
Concern with the club’s management grew, and by last year, the dissident group called the Ukiah Gun Club Committee for Change had expanded to about 100 members, said John Mayfield, a local businessman and 30-plus year club member.
The rift has included a court battle over membership lists, allegations of financial impropriety and a rancorous election ending with a majority of the former board being ousted in January.
Norbury claimed in his December email he donated hundreds of additional hours of work to the club and the work he was paid for was approved by the board.
“I am an honest man that has done the best he can for the gun club and its members,” he stated.
All parties say they want the club to get past the controversy, thrive and continue providing a place for law enforcement to practice firing weapons, and for the public and children to learn gun safety. The facility also has coin-operated trap machines and hosts events featuring antique guns.
Some members say the strife is the result of growing pains. Founded in 1945, the club has tripled in size to 1,200 in a little more than a decade, said Rod Island, who recently resigned from the board.
“I just hate to see all the turmoil out there,” he said. “I look forward to just being a member and going out to shoot.”