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Press Release

Lehigh County Father and Son Sentenced for Unlawful Possession of Machine Guns

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that Joseph Raymond Berger, 69, and his son, Joseph Paul Berger, 35, both of Bethlehem, PA, were sentenced by United States District Court Judge Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., to 36 months of supervised release and 37 months’ imprisonment, respectively, for illegal weapons possession.

Joseph Raymond Berger’s sentencing hearing was June 24, 2024; Joseph Paul Berger was sentenced on June 12, 2024.

In February of 2022, the men were charged by indictment with possession of a machine gun and possession of non-registered firearms. The charges stemmed from the defendants’ illegal possession of 13 fully automatic machine guns and 12 firearms silencers. The Bergers entered guilty pleas on February 28, 2024.

According to court documents, law enforcement agents with Customs and Border Protection intercepted three firearms silencers that were illegally imported into the United States in packages addressed to the defendants at their shared residence. Investigators then obtained a search warrant for the home and recovered from the basement the 13 fully automatic machine guns and the 12 firearms suppressors/silencers listed in the indictment. The machine guns included 11 rifles and 2 submachine guns.

Investigators also uncovered evidence that the firearms found in the Berger home were originally sold and purchased as semi-automatic firearms, which were then manually converted into unregistered, fully automatic machine guns.

“Our nation’s firearms laws exist to protect public safety,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “Abide by those regulations and you’re good to go. But if, like the Bergers, you brazenly flout them by illegally possessing dangerous items like fully automatic machine guns and silencers, expect to be held accountable for your actions.”

“The importation of illegal firearms suppressors is a serious crime that poses a serious threat to the American public,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI Philadelphia Sara Bay. “HSI, along with its partner agencies, is committed to keeping dangerous, illegal weapons off of the streets and out of the hands of criminals.”

“This sentencing validates the tireless efforts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to intercept illicit and dangerous products at our nation’s borders before they can harm America citizens, including fully automatic weapons that could be used on unsuspecting victims or on law enforcement officers,” said Adam Streetman, CBP’s Area Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia. “CBP remains committed to ensuring that imports comply with our nation’s laws, and to working with our law enforcement partners to keep our communities safe and hold nefarious actors accountable.”

“The combination of machine guns and silencers that these individuals illegally imported created a serious threat to our communities,” said Eric DeGree, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Philadelphia Field Division. “Getting illegal firearms like these, and the people who traffic them, off our street is core to the ATF mission of protecting our communities from violent crime.”

The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from Customs and Border Protection and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anthony Carissimi.

Updated June 25, 2024