Springfield News-Sun

ATF: Illegal gun sales, straw purchases continue to rise

- By Adam Ferrise

CLEVELAND — Anthony Redmond couldn’t legally buy guns because he had been convicted of several felonies, some violent, over the last four decades. But that didn’t stop him from making money in weapons.

He and three others from Cleveland linked up with two central Ohio-area men to peddle 9mm pistols. In just one month, they brought 116 to Cleveland that they sold to others who couldn’t legally make the purchases.

The group planned to expand its sales — with a standing order of 40 guns per week — until federal agents began an investigat­ion that led to the arrests of Redmond and the others.

The case underscore­s a worsening problem, particular­ly in Cleveland. A new report by the U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shows more people are legally buying guns and handing them off to those who are barred from owning them, sales known as straw purchases.

ATF Director Steve Dettelbach said his agency — armed with the data in the report and a new law that enhances penalties for the illegal sales — will ramp up investigat­ions and prosecutio­ns this year.

“Our straw-purchasing cases are very important,” Dettelbach said in a recent interview with cleveland. com and The Plain Dealer. “That’s a problem facing this country. We have significan­t efforts going on here in Cleveland, significan­t investigat­ions, and there will be additional efforts because this report tells us it’s a significan­t problem.”

The focus on straw-purchasing cases comes amid a surge in gun violence in Cleveland, particular­ly during the coronaviru­s pandemic. Cuyahoga County topped 200 homicides in three consecutiv­e years— from 2020 to 2022. It’s the first time that has happened in four decades.

Experts say straw purchasing is one of the most, if not the most, common way criminals acquire guns. Former ATF agent Jay Wachtel, now a consultant, said the sales help fuel street violence.

“Straw buyers have always been from the very beginning a major link to violent crimes,” Wachtel said. “And it’s a way for them to make money.”

The ATF report, released this month, is touted as the most comprehens­ive released in two decades. It showed, among other things, that more and more people buying guns at gun stores are purchasing them on behalf of felons or others who can’t have them.

‘Time-to-crime’ a key indicator

One pattern used to discern straw purchasing is tracing the amount of time it took from a legal purchase to a weapon being found at a crime scene, what the ATF calls “time-to-crime.” If that time is three years or less, it’s indicative of straw purchasing.

Overall, in the United States, the median time-to-crime length is three years. In Cleveland, it’s worse, at 2.2 years. In Ohio, it’s 2.5 years. About 78% of the guns found in Cleveland crimes are within 50 miles of where the gun was originally purchased, another indicator of straw purchasing, the report said.

Of the 9,642 guns used in crimes in Cleveland from 2017-2021, only 8% were traced back to the original purchaser. More than half — 56% — were legally purchased less than three years earlier, and 30% were purchased less than a year before the guns were used in a crime.

“Short time-to-crime suggests that traced crime guns were rapidly diverted from lawful firearms commerce into criminal hands and represents a key indicator of firearm traffickin­g,” the report said.

In June, Congress enacted a law that increased penalties for straw purchasing, the first time in history there has been a stand-alone law strictly for the practice. The law increased the maximum sentence from 10 to 15 years, and the term could go up to 25 years if the straw purchase is done in connection with drug deals.

‘Ohio’s laws make it really easy’

Daniel Webster, a professor at Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said straw purchasing has been a “big issue,” but that the ATF, one of the smallest federal law enforcemen­t agencies, typically gets involved in investigat­ions after a crime has been committed.

Webster has studied legislatio­n and other mechanisms that help deter straw purchasing. He said some states — 19, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence — have laws that allow local and state authoritie­s to investigat­e and prosecute straw purchasers. Ohio is not one of them.

“Ohio’s laws make it really darn easy to straw purchase and divert guns into the illegal market,” Webster said. He also said requiring a licensing program for legal gun buyers also helped deter straw purchasers with little political blowback.

“I’m glad ATF is taking note, but they’ve been under-resourced to do a good job at this,” Webster said. “The states that have their own regulation­s and capacity to hold people accountabl­e can kind of make up for the ATF’S limited capacity.”

Wachtel, the former ATF agent, and Josh Scharff of the Brady Center to Prevent Violence said investigat­ors and legislator­s should work to ensure licensed firearm dealers are using best practices to spot straw purchases and to stop or delay any sale that may be suspicious.

“Some states have adopted a one-firearm-per-month (rule), which has been shown to prevent firearms traffickin­g and, to a degree, straw purchasing,” Scharff said.

Federal prosecutor­s in northern Ohio have started using the stricter laws. Prosecutor­s charged 18 people in 2021 with straw purchasing and 25 in 2022. Two people were charged this month by prosecutor­s: a Euclid car-detailing business owner, Damian Morrow, who is accused of selling cocaine, marijuana and guns throughout Northeast Ohio; and a woman, Shania Johnson, who is accused of straw-buying five guns from stores in Akron and Grafton.

The cases from recent years show a wide range of straw purchasers — from large-scale gun trafficker­s like those in Redmond’s case to women who illegally bought a single weapon for their boyfriends.

Ohio cases

This month, 22-year-old Donnesha Jones pleaded guilty to buying a gun for a 17-year-old boy. Two days after Jones bought the gun, the teen used it to fire shots at a Parma home after a 15-year-old boy who lived there refused to fight him. Jones, who had no prior criminal history, faces between probation and one year in prison when she’s sentenced on May 17.

Similar cases were brought in the last two years.

Sequela Moore, 24, bought a gun for Deven Wheat in 2020. The gun was recovered shortly after by Cleveland police and was found to have been used in several shootings, according to court records. Moore, at the time, was studying to be a medical assistant and an X-ray technician. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Malik Daniel, 22, of Lima, bought 16 guns in one year from four gun stores. Police recovered three of those guns between 12 and 157 days from the day they were purchased. One gun was used in a double shooting at a party Lima; another was thrown from a car during a police chase; and a third was found in a motel room with a drug dealer.

In another case, Javon Tyler, a suspected member of the 43 Jungle Street Gang, a subset of the more widespread Heartless Felons gang, bought a gun for a fellow suspected gang member, Angel Lopez. Tyler was sentenced to one year in prison and Lopez 30 months.

Another case involved a Cleveland man, Willie Rushing, who bought 30 guns from stores across northeast Ohio. Some guns went to his uncle, Calvin White, and others to Diamond Robinson, a known Cleveland gun trafficker, according to authoritie­s. Police found 19 of those guns at crime scenes in Mentor and Cleveland. Rushing was sentenced to 18 months in prison. White and Robinson pleaded guilty but have not yet been sentenced.

In Anthony Redmond’s case, he and two other Cleveland men, Martino Lorenzi and Jadden Bedell, along with a man from New York, bought straw-purchased guns from Brian Cunningham and Tyson Rathburn in the Columbus area.

Straw purchasers bought dozens of guns at a time from George Washinguns LLC, which operated out of a single-family home in Commercial Point, a village in Pickaway County in central Ohio.

Rathburn and Cunningham sold the weapons to the Cleveland group in parking lots at a Dollar General in Ashville and a Rural King hardware store in Marysville, among other places.

All but Bedell have pleaded guilty. The Rochester man, Charles Jackson, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. The others are awaiting sentencing.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? A new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report shows an increase in straw purchasing in cities across the country, including in Ohio.
ASSOCIATED PRESS A new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives report shows an increase in straw purchasing in cities across the country, including in Ohio.

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