Source: Maryland Matters
Former police chiefs in two states, including North Carolina, are facing federal charges in Maryland in connection with a conspiracy to illegally obtain machine guns and other firearms, Maryland Matters reported.
The charges the former police chiefs are facing are similar to those faced by Republican Frederick County (Maryland) Sheriff Chuck Jenkins.
“A top priority of the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains holding accountable those who illegally possess or traffic firearms,” a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Erek Barron said in an emailed statement to Maryland Matters.
The issue, according to reports, is that both police chiefs sent “law letters” to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in order to get firearms that are normally banned from being sold in the U.S. – like fully automatic machine guns and short-barreled rifles.
There is an exception to federal firearms laws that sometimes allows licensed gun dealers to buy weapons like machine guns as a sample for demonstration to potential military or law enforcement buyers, so long as the agency sends a law letter, also known as a “demo letter.”
The indictment charges five defendants, including the police chiefs in Coats, North Carolina, and Ray, North Dakota, of improperly using the law letters in order to get machine guns.
Federal prosecutors accused the defendants of conspiring to get machine guns by lying in their letters and saying that the guns would be used for demonstration for their respective law enforcement agencies, though they weren’t actually going to be used in any demonstrations. The Coats and Ray police departments don’t even have SWAT teams that would use that type of weaponry.
Matthew Jeremy Hall, 53, the ex-Coats Police Department chief, submitted 53 letters requesting 92 firearms for demonstration. Coats is a town of around 2,000 people.
James Sawyer, 50, who was charged, was the only member of his town’s police department, prosecutors said. Despite being the only police officer in town, he still submitted 32 law letters that requested the demonstration of over 70 firearms.
There were also several others named in the indictment who were not charged, including two law enforcement officers in New Mexico who sent a combined 144 letters to the ATF requesting 1,012 guns.
According to prosecutors, the letters were coordinated with three federal firearms licensees and they all face charges. One of the three, North Carolina resident Larry Allen Vickers, owned VT Guns in Union County and was also a YouTube personality. He pleaded guilty in late October to conspiracy and admitted that he kept some of the weapons he received and then sold others. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy and 20 years for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Hall is facing a maximum of five years in federal prison if convicted of conspiracy. He has not yet appeared in U.S. District Court to face his charge.