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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Former Police Officer Sentenced to 30 Months in Federal Prison for Possession of an Unregistered Fully Automatic Firearm

Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker, sitting by designation in Baltimore, sentenced James Piccirilli, age 38, of Towson, Maryland, to 30 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for possession of an unregistered fully automatic firearm. The sentence was imposed on January 13, 2020. 

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur and Special Agent in Charge Rob Cekada of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division.

“This is not a case of someone using firearms to hunt, or to keep his family safe,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur.  “This is a firearms expert who purposely manufactured highly dangerous, highly regulated firearms, and knowing the harm they could cause, attempted to illegally sell them. This conduct poses a significant risk to public safety and we take seriously any effort to violate laws regulating fully automatic weapons, which can wound and kill at an alarmingly high rate.”

The National Firearms Act regulates certain firearms, known as “NFA firearms,” such as short-barreled rifles; fully automatic firearms; firearms that can be readily made fully automatic; and parts that can make a firearm fully automatic.  Individuals may not possess an NFA firearm that is not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR), nor can a person sell or transfer an NFA firearm without the prior approval of the ATF.

According to his guilty plea, on October 5, 2018, Piccirilli took an MKE 5.56mm caliber firearm, which had been altered to convert it into a fully automatic short-barreled rifle, bringing the firearm under the regulation of the NFA, to the home of another individual, who was a licensed gun dealer in Maryland.  As detailed in court documents, Piccirilli, formerly a police officer in Brunswick, Maryland, legally owned non-NFA firearms and had the skill and expertise to convert non-NFA firearms into NFA firearms.  Piccirilli admitted that the firearm belonged to him, but it was not registered to him.

As detailed in his plea agreement, in November 2018, unbeknownst to Piccirilli, ATF seized the firearm.  In December 2018, Piccirilli attempted to sell the firearm to an ATF undercover agent without ATF’s prior approval.  According to information presented to the Court, Piccirilli tried to launder the unregistered firearm by attempting to get the gun dealer to register the illegal firearm and/or sell it, so that the sale of the gun would appear to be legal.  This set up the sale with the ATF undercover agent.  As documented through text messages and recorded telephone calls, Piccirilli used evasive language with the ATF undercover agent and tried to conceal the nature of the transaction.  On December 14, 2018, as Piccirilli left his house to complete the transaction, he was apprehended by ATF agents.  Investigators executed search warrants on his house and two vehicles, seizing 10 unregistered fully automatic firearms, one unregistered short-barreled rifle, and seven unregistered silencers.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.  Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

This case is also part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws.  Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.  For more information about Project Guardian, please see:        

United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended the ATF for its work in the investigation.  Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patricia C. McLane and Brandon Moore, who prosecuted the case.

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Firearms Offenses
Project Guardian
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Marcia Murphy (410) 209-4854
Updated January 14, 2020