East Montpelier man pleads not guilty to alleged illegal gun purchase

BURLINGTON — An East Montpelier resident pleaded not guilty to charges by a federal grand jury that he illegally purchased guns while he was alleged to be a heroin and cocaine user.

On Wednesday, United States Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy ordered that Michael Bernier, 34, be detained pending trial after he denied allegations that he illegally purchased two semi-automatic pistols from R&L Archery in Barre while being a drug user.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office

NO DRUGS AND GUNS: Federal law prohibits the use of illegal drugs if you are attempting to purchase a firearm. The penalty for a violation can be up to 10 years in prison.

A federal grand jury indicted Bernier for “possession of firearms while being an unlawful user of heroin and cocaine base and making false statements regarding his drug use when purchasing the firearms,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

While charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty, Bernier faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Court records indicate that Bernier bought two identical semi-automatic firearms between the dates of June 22 and June 23. According to the Department of Justice, the make and model is one “commonly used by firearm traffickers in the area.”

When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives contacted Bernier regarding the purchases, he told them that the guns had been stolen out of his car. Further investigation “revealed that Bernier was a user of heroin and cocaine base at the time of the purchases,” according to the DOJ.

Federal law prohibits users of illegal drugs from attempting to purchase firearms. According to Chris Bradley, president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, gun purchasers are required to reveal personal drug use on a firearms transaction form when undergoing a federal background check.

The paperwork, known as form 4473, is submitted to a Federal Firearms Licensed dealer and checked by local and federal agencies. In addition to name, address and identification numbers, the form asks about a person’s criminal background and drug use record —  including illegal use of “any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance.”

The federal form also notes that “the use or possession of marijuana remains unlawful under Federal law regardless of whether it has been legalized or decriminalized for medical or recreational purposes in the state where you reside.”

While the statement from the Department of Justice doesn’t say how investigators concluded Bernier was “an unlawful user of heroin and cocaine base,” it does say the grand jury charged him with “making false statements regarding his drug use when purchasing the firearms.”

Bradley thinks that likely refers to the background check form.

“If you are lying on a federal form, it can come back and bite you,” he said.

Individuals making gun purchases must sign a statement acknowledging that “any false oral or written statement” with respect to the transaction is “a crime punishable as a felony under Federal law, and may also violate State and/or local law.”

Bradley said most criminals don’t bother to obtain a gun by filling out a 4473 form and undergoing a background check.

“[Everyone has to fill it out] except the ones done by criminals who aren’t going to follow the law anyway,” he said.

However, he said Vermonters who use marijuana legally in the state could face drug charges when filling out federal forms to purchase a gun.

The federal government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicole Cate. Bernier is represented by attorney Kevin Henry.

Christina Nolan, the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont, noted that the prosecution is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program aimed at uniting different levels of law enforcement and communities to reduce violent crime in neighborhoods.

In 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions urged that law enforcement use PSN to focus in on violent criminals. He directed all U.S. attorney’s offices to cooperate closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement entities.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office praised the Montpelier Police Department’s help in this case.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Office

6 thoughts on “East Montpelier man pleads not guilty to alleged illegal gun purchase

  1. The list of drugs does not seem to include prescription anti-depressants. These should be included, for there is a strong link between some rare side effects of these drugs and mass shootings and the high rate of suicides among veterans. While these drugs are very useful and help many people with certain mental problems, in some rare cases they have been shown to cause delusions, aggression and violent behavior. Check online or even You Tube and type in “mass killings/drugs” and “veteran suicides/drugs.” There are the usual conspiracy theories, but also many accounts by reputable professionals detailing the link.

  2. 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.

    • Not to mention that the 2nd amendment says that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. There are no other qualifiers to the 2nd – its every citizens right to have a gun

  3. IDIOT, this fool figures he can lie on the form ( 4473) and do his normal drug endeavors,
    he deserves what he gets for breaking the law !!

    Also just because VT says you can have minimal amounts of POT ( I don’t care ) personally
    you need to be aware, you may be smoking with a neighbor and one day and then they call
    the FEDS that you have firearms ………… you’re on the hook.

    Liberals have an agenda ( anti-gun) and this may be part of getting your firearms under the
    federal laws one at a time ……….one way or the other it’s going to cost you !!

    • According to the US Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED. Do the drunks have their guns taken away?? No and unless you are actually harming another person with your gun and its NOT self defense – then the government has no right to INFRINGE on your right to have a gun – PERIOD

      • But many of our present politicians of both parties seem to consider Constitutions to be merely obstacles to power. In that, they are absolutely right. But they consistently ignore the parts they don’t like, and use the rest to occasionally attack opponents. The 2nd amendment and article 16 of Vermont’s Constitution are constantly under attack, all parties have ignored article 16 of Vermont’s Constitution for decades, and they all violate the 12th amendment every four years.

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