PEORIA, Ill. – A Peoria, Ill., man, Keith L. Winters, 31, was sentenced on July 21, 2021, to an aggregate term of 67 months in federal prison, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release, for conspiring and stealing firearms from federal firearms licensees, possessing stolen firearms, and possessing firearms while a felon. Altogether, Winters’s burglaries involved 94 stolen firearms.
Winters, who pleaded guilty to the charges, admitted that on March 21, 2019, he and two others drove a stolen truck from Peoria to The Tac Shack in Monmouth, Illinois. Two additional accomplices accompanied the truck by car to serve as a lookout. When both vehicles arrived at The Tac Shack, participants in the burglary shattered the glass storefront and made entry. After taking 36 guns from the store, the men drove back to Peoria and divided up the stolen guns. Winters further admitted that on March 29, 2019, he and several others drove a stolen truck from Peoria to Farm King in Galesburg, Illinois, where the men used wire cutters to enter a fenced area, then broke a window to make entry. Like the first burglary, two additional accomplices in a separate vehicle acted as a lookout for law enforcement. After taking 58 guns from Farm King, the men drove back to Peoria to divide up the stolen guns. At the time Winters committed each of the burglaries, he had previously been convicted of felony offenses and was prohibited by law from possessing firearms.
At the sentencing hearing, the government presented evidence that law enforcement recovered approximately 40 of the firearms in the months following the burglaries. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Peoria Police Department used the ATF’s ballistic imaging network to determine that the stolen guns had traveled to Peoria, Chicago, and Evanston, as well as out of Illinois, including to cities in Iowa, Indiana, and Alabama. Many of the firearms recovered were linked to other crimes, including robbery, unlawful possession of weapons, shootings, and homicide. Shell casings from one of the guns matched those from one of several firearms discharged in a gunfight on the Peoria Riverfront on July 19, 2020, where 13 people were wounded.
Previously, on July 16, 2020, Winters’s co-defendant Jeremy L. Howard, 41, was sentenced to 52 months in prison, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release, for his involvement in the possession and distribution of firearms. On June 2, 2021, codefendant Miray A. Smith, 21, was sentenced to 46 months in prison, to be followed by a 3-year term of supervised release, for conspiring and stealing firearms from federal firearms licensees and possessing stolen firearms. Both men resided in Peoria at the time of their crimes. At Smith’s sentencing hearing, United States District Judge Michael M. Mihm emphasized the dangerousness of the distribution of unlawful firearms on the streets, likening a stolen gun to a boulder rolling down a mountain that will inevitably crash into something and destroy lives.
“Working with the ATF and our other law enforcement partners, the United States Attorney’s Office remains committed to doing what it takes to get guns out of the hands of people who cannot legally possess them,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Douglas J. Quivey. “Burglaries of licensed firearms dealers represent a major threat to public safety not just in Central Illinois but to the entire region, and we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute all of those responsible.”
“ATF will continue to collaborate with state and local partners to investigate all thefts from federal firearms licensees,” commented ATF Special Agent in Charge Kristen de Tineo of the Chicago Field Division. “I commend the coordinated effort of the law enforcement agencies in investigating this case and the United States Attorney’s office for charging it.”
The charges are the result of investigation by the ATF, with assistance from the Galesburg Police Department; Illinois State Police; Monmouth Police Department; Peoria County Sheriff’s Office; and the Peoria Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Hanna represented the government in the prosecution of the case in coordination with the Warren County, Knox County, and Peoria County State’s Attorneys’ Offices.