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Press Release

Rhode Island Man Charged with Building, Selling "Ghost" Machine Gun

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE - A Cranston man was arrested today on charges he allegedly manufactured and sold a “ghost” machinegun without a license to an out-of-state Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) undercover agent.

As the result of a Project Safe Neighborhoods investigation initiated by the Cranston Police Department in November, David Ladwig, 63, was arrested today as ATF agents, ATF Task Force members, and Cranston Police executed a federal court-authorized search of his residence, a boat moored in Pawtuxet Cove. From the houseboat, law enforcement seized arched the Boat and inside found, among other things, an AR-15 receiver, ammunition, firearm parts, and silencer parts. 

“Ghost-guns” are firearms manufactured without serial numbers, making them difficult for law enforcement to trace. It is alleged in court documents that on November 15, 2018, Ladwig sold a “ghost” machinegun he manufactured to an undercover ATF agent who is a resident of Connecticut.

Ladwig appeared today before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Lincoln D. Almond on a federal criminal complaint charging him with possession/transfer of a machine gun, possession of a firearm not registered to him, engaging in the business of selling firearms, and selling a firearm to an out-of-state resident. Ladwig was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.

Ladwig’s arrest and initial appearance in U.S. District Court are announced by United States Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch, ATF Special Agent in Charge Kelly D. Brady, and Cranston Police Chief Colonel Michael J. Winquist.

According to Court documents, it is alleged that in November 2018, ATF acquired information that suggested that Ladwig was engaged in the manufacture of firearms, including machineguns, and was searching for buyers. On November 11, 2018, an ATF undercover agent contacted Ladwig by telephone. The agent identified himself as a resident of Connecticut.

It is alleged that during the call with the ATF agent, Ladwig said that he manufactured “ghost guns” from parts, and that he had a machinegun available for $4,000. Shortly after the call, at the agent’s request, Ladwig texted him photographs of other “ghost guns” he allegedly manufactured and that were available for sale. The photographs depicted a rifle described as having a “reticle sight and aimpoint laser and suppressor” for $1,600; a “full auto” rifle for $4,000; a sig p228 9mm pistol for $850; and a 9mm pistol for $750.

On November 15, 2018, the undercover agent met with Ladwig at a pre-determined location in the parking lot of the marina where Ladwig’s houseboat is moored. It is alleged that Ladwig transferred the receiver for a machinegun to the agent in return for $2,800 in cash. Ladwig pointed out the components that allowed for automatic fire, including the auto sear and auto hammer. Ladwig also manipulated the selector switch, explaining how to move from the semi-automatic position to the automatic fire position. Ladwig explained that the firearm was missing certain parts, such as the full auto bolt carrier group, and that he would be getting those parts by mail shortly. He was arrested as he delivered the missing parts to the agent today. 

Prior to leaving the agent’s vehicle, it is alleged that Ladwig told the agent that he hoped that they could do more business together and that he would mail him the missing parts for the machinegun. The machinegun was sent to an ATF lab for further examination. It was determined that many of the parts used to construct the machinegun had been constructed using M16 machinegun parts.

A criminal complaint is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Milind M. Shah.

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.


Jim Martin
(401) 709-5357

Updated December 13, 2018

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Press Release Number: 18-164