Couple draws jail in straw purchase for Pottstown shooter
Concerned about straw purchases that allow guns to get into the hands of “bad people,” a judge sent a couple to jail for their roles in the illegal transfer of a handgun to a North Coventry man who was involved in several Pottstown shootings.
Rashaun Chambers, 22, of the 100 block of Western Avenue, Morristown, N.J., was sentenced in Montgomery County Court on Thursday to 14 ½ to 35 months in jail and two years’ probation after he pleaded guilty to charges of criminal use of a communication facility, firearms purchase duty of other persons and conspiracy to deal in proceeds of unlawful activities in connection with incidents that occurred between November 2014 and March 2015.
Chambers’ onetime girlfriend, Briana Nichole Sickel, 29, formerly of the 600 block of West Schuylkill Road, North Coventry, was sentenced to six to 23 months in the county jail and two years probation after she pleaded guilty to felony charges of making materially false written statements and conspiracy to deal in proceeds of unlawful activities in connection with the same incidents.
“The court has concerns about getting guns in the hands of bad people,” Judge Gail A. Weilheimer addressed the defendants. “You were enabling a bad person to have this gun.”
With the charges against Chambers, detectives alleged he was “the middle-man to facilitate the straw purchase” of a firearm through his girlfriend, Sickel, to Skyler Sebastian Vollmuth, of North Coventry.
Detectives alleged Sickel purchased a Keltec .380-caliber handgun from a New Holland, Lancaster County, gun store on Nov. 10, 2014, and on the paperwork Sickel lied and claimed the gun was for her. However, authorities said the gun made its way into the hands of Vollmuth and its serial number was obliterated.
“Rashaun Chambers was the brains behind a fairly-involved straw purchase of a firearm to somebody who had already done two shootings in Pottstown Borough and was now being equipped for more,” said Assistant District Attorney Richard H. Bradbury Jr., adding the jail sentences send a message to others
who might be contemplating similar conduct.
“It certainly should send a message that we’re not going to mess around with people who are buying guns for people who shouldn’t have them and they’re certainly not going to do it in Pottstown. It’s an excellent
way to go to prison,” said Bradbury, a member of the district attorney’s Pottstown community prosecution unit.
Earlier this year, Vollmuth, 21, of the 1200 block of East Cedarville Road, was sentenced to a total of nine to 20 years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to assault and firearms charges in connection with multiple incidents, including two November 2014
shootings in Pottstown.
Ballistics tests revealed the same weapon was used by Vollmuth during the Nov. 6 and Nov. 8 shootings, but authorities said the gun used in the two shootings was never recovered.
However, on Nov. 13, 2014, police and members of the Ches-Mont Emergency Response Team arrested Vollmuth at his residence and confiscated another gun, a loaded Keltec .380-caliber firearm that had an obliterated serial number. That’s the gun authorities alleged Vollmuth obtained with the help of Sickel and Chambers.
Bradbury and co-prosecutor
Samantha L. Thompson sought state prison terms for Chambers and Sickel.
“Without her role in this, Mr. Vollmuth and Mr. Chambers are thwarted in getting a gun to Mr. Vollmuth,” said Bradbury, referring to Sickel.
But defense lawyer Patricia E. Cassidy argued for leniency on behalf of Sickel, a mother of four who had no prior criminal record and was turning her life around, working four jobs now to support her family.
“This was an aberration. She made a mistake and she knows it’s a really big mistake,” Cassidy argued.
Sickel told the judge she
“fully regrets all the mistakes” she made.
When police initially questioned Sickel about the gun, she told them she sold the gun to a friend “because she needed money for rent,” according to the criminal complaint.
Court documents indicate detectives uncovered the straw purchase scheme with the help of witnesses who appeared before the county’s investigating grand jury.
In seeking state prison time for Chambers, Bradbury said that while awaiting trial on the charges, Chambers racked up other drug-related arrests in other jurisdictions.
“He thought he was helping out a friend. He has accepted responsibility for his actions,” said defense lawyer Francis Genovese, who argued for leniency on behalf of Chambers.
Chambers told the judge he made “a huge mistake” and believed he was helping a friend. Chambers, who shares a child with Sickel, said he still loves her and hopes to reunite with her one day.
“I don’t think of myself as a criminal,” Chambers said.
Bradbury said the arrests of Vollmuth, Sickel and Chambers were the result of the “outstanding work” of Pottstown detectives Mark Wickersham and Brooke Fisher, who investigated the incidents.