Five St. Albans residents arrested and charged as ‘straw purchasers’ of 30 firearms

Five St. Albans residents were arrested and charged with providing false information to firearms dealers in the purchase of around 30 firearms that were allegedly smuggled into Boston, Massachusetts, in connection with criminal gang activity.

Tyson Wells, Dara Bessette, Sierra Lacoste, Laci Baker and Megan West appeared in federal court in Burlington on Sept. 13 and pleaded not guilty to providing false statements in connection with the purchase of firearms.

According to the criminal complaint, the defendants provided or aided in providing false information to firearms dealers in conducting what are known as “straw-purchases” of firearms by claiming they were for themselves and no one else.

St. Albans Police Department

The arrests were a collaborative effort between federal agencies and the St. Albans Police Department, according to U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan.

A straw-purchase of firearms occurs when someone who legally can own a firearm buys one with the intent to transfer it to a person who legally can’t own one. When a firearm transaction is made, the purchaser fills out a 4473 Form and signs a statement ensuring that the gun is for their use only.

The purchases were said to be in exchange of narcotic drugs — either cocaine or heroin — from drug dealers operating in the St. Albans and Swanton area. The defendants not only claimed that the firearms were being purchased for personal use, but they also claimed that they were not unlawful users of controlled substances.

The gun shops that the firearms were acquired from are licensed dealers by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and were not aware of alleged falsehoods being told when the transactions were made.

U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said this particular case highlights the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s office to prioritize firearms offenses.

“Those who violate gun laws by diverting weapons to the black market endanger innocent citizens and empower dangerous criminals,” Nolan said in a statement regarding the collaborative investigation between ATF and the St. Albans Police Department leading up to the arrests.

“Federal, state and local law enforcement will work as a team to bring consequences for such conduct, and will target such individuals for federal prosecution,” she said.

Nolan also noted that the prosecution is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program that brings local law enforcement and the community together in an attempt to reduce violent crime and keep communities safe.

ATF Assistant Special Agent of the Boston Field Division Lawrence Panetta said straw-purchases and illegal trafficking of firearms is a serious criminal activity that allows people who can’t legally possess firearms to acquire them undetected.

“ATF remains dedicated to identifying, investigating and arresting these individuals and making our streets and communities safer from violent firearm related acts,” Panetta said.

If convicted, the offenders each face up to 10 years of imprisonment. The actual sentence would be determined by the court, with guidance from the advisory Federal Sentencing Guidelines. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Ed Cutler, president of Gun Owners of Vermont, said no laws or regulation put in place for firearms purchases would stop straw-purchases from happening, and he said the system is effective overall in keeping it at a minimum.

“Law abiding gun owners don’t do things like this,” Cutler said. “Realistically, the system works — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

He said when cops find crime guns, they are able to track every movement of the firearm from the day it was manufactured to where it was shipped off to be sold. In the case of the 4473 Form, ATF is then able to pinpoint exactly where the firearm was purchased and who purchased it.

“There are records kept from the moment that gun is produced,” Cutler said. “Firearms dealers have to keep all those records forever, and if they go out of business they have to turn all those records over to ATF so they can check it, find out who bought it and do a final investigation.”

Cutler said some 20 years ago a Mexican president was the target of an assassination attempt and it only took officials four hours to track the firearm purchaser back to the United States.

But there are some occasions where flaws can be found in the system and quickly corrected.

Cutler said an incident in Vermont occured where a 19-year-old attempted to purchase a Hammerli bullseye pistol but was denied because he was under 21, even though his background check came back clean.

His mother, without understanding the law or the consequences to follow, decided to purchase the firearm for her son. When they got home, ATF agents had already contacted the mother to find out what she would be using the firearm for and she told them she bought it for her son. She was arrested on felony charges for being a straw-purchaser and can never own a firearm again.

Cutler added that a police officer was also questioned by ATF after purchasing his regular duty weapon and a backup in the same day from the same distributor — so there are no exceptions for anyone.

“If you buy two handguns from the same dealer on the same day, the ATF actually investigates that,” Cutler said. “No matter what law you make, a criminal will get around it. What it will do is it might limit an honest person from purchasing a firearm.”

Briana Bocelli is a freelance reporter for True North Reports.

Image courtesy of St. Albans Police Department
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4 thoughts on “Five St. Albans residents arrested and charged as ‘straw purchasers’ of 30 firearms

  1. I assume that these miscreants will avoid Vermont’s new law prohibiting the transfer of weapons between (unrelated) individuals (S.55) because they “appear” to have made the transfers in person out of state. I hope Vermont authorities follow-up as well to ensure there is no action that can be taken. I will bet they all get suspended sentences under the federal system so it is imperative Vermont do everything possible to take any possible action as well.

  2. @ C Henry

    “James, you make some good points, the problem is that the laws whether you like
    them or not are the law, get them changed.”

    One could argue Constitutionality as James is and the list below,prepared by and
    from Supreme Court Gun Cases (Kopel, Halbrook, Korwin, Bloomfield Press, 2003):

    USSC cases where getting the law changed is not the solution but rather adherence to the Constitution as written. James is technically correct,that said until overturned each person has to make his or her own decisions.

    “The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.”
    — 16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256

    “Miranda’s basic principles are only tangential to the infringement issues continually arising over the right to keep arms and the right to bear arms, and Miranda is by no stretch a gun case itself per se. But it is in a special category of cases that is cited frequently in terms of the general rights involved in firearms rights. A reader who feels that the inclusion of this case goes too far afield of the Supreme Court Gun Cases theme (and case count) will be pleased to note that the following seven cases have not been included for that very reason:

    Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 1803:

    “an act of the legislature repugnant to the constitution is void.”

    Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 1886:

    “It is the duty of courts to be watchful for the constitutional rights of the citizen, and against any stealthy encroachments thereon.”

    Norton v. Shelby County, 118 U.S. 425 1886:

    “An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties; affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation as though it had never been passed.”

    Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 1928:

    “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding.” (Note: quoted from dissent.)

    Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 1943:

    “A state may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the Federal Constitution.”
    “a person cannot be compelled ‘to purchase, through a license fee or a license tax, the privilege freely granted by the Constitution.’” (read Gun Permits, FOIDs)

    Staub v. Baxley, 355 U.S. 313 1958:

    “It is settled by a long line of recent decisions of this Court that an ordinance which, like this one, makes the peaceful enjoyment of freedoms which the Constitution guarantees contingent upon the uncontrolled will of an official-as by requiring a permit or license which may be granted or withheld in the discretion of such official-is an unconstitutional censorship or prior restraint upon the enjoyment of those freedoms.” (read Concealed Carry Permits)

    Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham Alabama, 394 U.S. 147 1969:

    “And our decisions have made clear that a person faced with such an unconstitutional licensing law may ignore it and engage with impunity in the exercise of the right of free expression for which the law purports to require a license.”

  3. The federal government is not delegated the authority by our Constitution to legislate, enforce, or adjudicate laws pertaining to the exercise of our rights. Period.

    The federal government is not delegated the authority by our Constitution to require government permission to exercise a right.

    The federal government is not delegated the authority by our Constitution to compel us to waive our 4th Amendment guaranteed right to be secure from unwarranted interrogation, search, or seizure in the absence of probable cause of criminal conduct as a precondition to being allowed (or denied) to exercise our right to keep and bear arms. This happens every time we fill out BATFE form 4473 under penalty of perjury.
    .
    The federal government is not delegated the authority by our Constitution to compel us to waive our 5th Amendment–guaranteed right to due process as a precondition to being allowed (or denied) to exercise our right to keep and bear arms. By forcing us to fill out BATFE form 4473 under duress.

    The federal government is not delegated the authority by our Constitution to compel us to waive our 10th Amendment right to a federal government exercising only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution, and State governments are prohibited the exercise of any power prohibited to the States by the United States Constitution.

    The federal government is not even delegated by our Constitution the authority to license firearm dealers or operate or fund the most powerful anti-rights government agency on the planet called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

    The federal government is not delegated the authority by our Constitution to compel us to waive our 10th Amendment right to a federal government exercising only those powers delegated to it by the United States Constitution, and State governments are prohibited the exercise of any power prohibited to the States by the United States Constitution.

    The purpose of compelled background checks as a precondition to allowing or denying the transfer of a firearm is to deceive firearm owners and prospective owners into unknowingly waiving their rights guaranteed by the 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 10th Amendments so they will have no rights left to claim when the government decides to confiscate our firearms.

    The federal government has no authority delegated by the Constitution to deceive its citizens into waiving their rights or acquiescing to the loss of their rights by subterfuge, scam, fraud, or force.

    • James, you make some good points, the problem is that the laws whether you like them or not are the law, get them changed.

      These Five knowing they were selling to dubious sources (Boston, Massachusetts)
      give me a break, this kind of BS is why law-abiding gun owners get a bad rap from all the anti-gunners we have running the state. This is just one more thing for them to show why they push for more laws.

      These Five “Idiots” should get what they get! There are tons of laws I don’t like or even
      believe are constitutional but the courts say they are. Laws can be changed.

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