Baltimore, Maryland – Jonathan M. Sutton, age 36, of Chestertown, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to unlawfully obtain firearms for a prohibited person. Yesterday, Daniel P. Welch, age 36, of Crumpton and Chestertown, Maryland, the person for whom Sutton obtained the weapons, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of firearms.
The guilty pleas were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Queen Anne’s County Sheriff R. Gary Hofmann III; Chief G. Adrian Baker of the Chestertown Police Department; and Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney Lance G. Richardson.
According to their guilty pleas, Welch is a previously convicted felon and therefore is prohibited from possessing firearms. Welch and Sutton have known each other since they were small children. Between January 29, 2011 and January 31, 2014, Sutton obtained six firearms for Welch through private sellers and through “straw purchases” by Sutton from a federally licensed firearms dealer. A “straw purchase” occurs when an individual, who is ineligible to lawfully purchase a firearm, such as a previously convicted felon, solicits another to conduct the transaction. As part of the purchase, the middleman-buyer must complete the ATF Form 4473, which notifies the buyer that such purchases are unlawful. On the first page of the form, the buyer is asked: “Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm . . .?” The question is followed by a warning in bold print that states: “Warning: You are not the actual buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person.” Finally, the buyer’s certification explicitly states that falsely answering “yes” to the actual buyer question is a crime punishable as a felony.
Welch and Sutton admitted that on January 29, 2011, they visited four ATMs in Stevensville, Maryland, near a federally licensed firearms dealer, and Welch withdrew approximately $1,700 in cash. Welch and Sutton then went to the firearms dealer and selected firearms for Sutton to purchase for Welch. Sutton purchased a Smith & Wesson MP5-22, a Mossberg Persuada 500, and a Century Arms SKS. Sutton completed Form 4473 indicating the he was the actual buyer of the firearms and was not acquiring the firearms for another person. On February 1, 2011, Sutton picked up the guns, which he then transferred to Welch. On February 11, 2011, Sutton purchased a Marlin rifle from the firearms dealer, again completing the Form 4473 and falsely indicting that he was buying the gun for himself. In 2012, Sutton acquired a Remington Arms 597 and a Ruger Single Six, both .22 caliber, through private purchases. Those guns were subsequently possessed by Welch.
Welch also admitted that on May 17, 2013, he broke into a neighbor’s home and stole an express pump action 20 gauge shotgun with a 21 inch barrel and other items. On June 14, 2103, officers with the Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at Welch’s residence in Crumpton and recovered items Welch had stolen from the neighbor, including the shotgun. Welch had sawed off a portion of the barrel and removed the serial number. During the search, officers also located the two firearms Welch received from Sutton in 2012.
Welch faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and Sutton faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy. Chief Judge Blake has scheduled sentencing for Welch on April 7, 2015 at 9:15 a.m., and for Sutton on April 16, 2015, at 9:00 a.m.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI, Queen Anne’s County Sheriff’s Office, Chestertown Police Department and the Queen Anne’s County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Zachary A. Myers, who is prosecuting the case.