The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)

Man draws prison for straw purchase scheme

- By Carl Hessler Jr.

NORRISTOWN >> A New Jersey man is headed to prison for participat­ing in a scheme to illegally obtain firearms by relying on straw purchases made by a Delaware County resident on his behalf at a West Norriton gun store.

Edward Eugene Ratliff, 51, of the unit block of Hampton Road, New Brunswick, N.J., was sentenced this week in Montgomery County Court to 10 to 20 years in a state correction­al facility on charges of making materially false written statements, firearms sales to ineligible persons, person not to possess firearms, dealing in proceeds of unlawful acts and conspiracy in connection with incidents that occurred in the county between January and February 2021.

A jury convicted Ratliff of the charges during a trial in August.

The sentence was imposed by Judge Thomas P. Rogers, who presided over that trial.

Another target of the investigat­ion, Diarmani K. Deveaux, 25, of the 500 block of McDade Boulevard, Collingdal­e, Delaware County, previously pleaded guilty to charges of making materially false statements, firearm sales to ineligible persons, dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, unsworn falsificat­ion and conspiracy in connection with the incidents. Deveaux is awaiting sentencing.

Assistant District Attorney Sa

mantha Arena handled the prosecutio­n.

The investigat­ion began in February 2021, when county detectives reviewed federal firearms sales records and determined that Deveaux purchased eight firearms at Treeline Sports Inc. along West Main Street in West Norriton over the course of two days, on Jan. 22 and Feb. 6, according to court documents. Four firearms were purchased on each date, detectives said.

Authoritie­s alleged Deveaux did not have a prior criminal record and could legally purchase the firearms but did so, during a so-called straw purchase scheme, for Ratliff, who was prohibited from purchasing firearms due to his prior criminal history.

Ratliff accompanie­d Deveaux during the gun purchases, according to court documents.

A straw purchase occurs when a person with a clean background purchases firearms on behalf of another person to conceal the true ownership of the firearm. Those who are unable to legally purchase firearms include convicted felons, domestic violence offenders, juveniles and mentally ill individual­s.

Detectives alleged video surveillan­ce footage depicted Ratliff entering the West Norriton gun store on Jan. 22 around the same time as Deveaux.

Deveaux falsely indicated on firearm purchase forms that he was the “actual buyer” of the four firearms but then passed the guns to Ratliff, detectives alleged.

“In this case, Edward Ratliff clearly possessed all firearms purchased by Deveaux as the parties exited the gun store,” county Detective David Holtzman wrote in the criminal complaint.

The weapons included a Taurus 9mm handgun and a Glock 44 .22-caliber handgun.

Deveaux later told detectives Ratliff wanted the Taurus and Glock before the purchase even occurred.

“Deveaux said he was going to legally transfer the firearms to Ratliff later. However, Deveaux never did legally transfer the Taurus and the Glock over to Ratliff and I believe he had no intention to do so in the future,” Holtzman alleged.

Ratliff, detectives alleged, also was with Deveaux

on Feb. 6 when four other handguns were purchased and Ratliff was observed inspecting the firearms.

“Edward Ratliff was an active participan­t in what firearms were purchased,”

Holtzman alleged. “He pointed out firearms in display case, examined the firearms and handed over the firearms to Deveaux who ultimately purchased them.”

The firearms were then

taken to Ratliff’s residence in New Brunswick, detectives alleged.

Deveaux paid cash for the firearms on both occasions, according to court documents.

Holtzman alleged it is

common for the true recipient of the firearms to accompany the “straw purchaser” to a gun store so the intended recipient has the opportunit­y to relay to the person buying the firearms which firearms he or

she wants.

Deveaux allegedly told authoritie­s he purchased the eight firearms using “stimulus money.” Deveaux paid a total of $4,624 cash for the eight firearms, detectives said.

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