Five Arrested and Charged as “Straw Purchasers” of 30 Firearms
The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced that on September 13, 2018, Tyson Wells, Dara Bessette, Sierra Lacoste, Laci Baker, and Megan West, all of St. Albans, were arrested and charged with knowingly providing false information to firearms dealers in connection with the purchase of a firearm. In total, the defendants are responsible for the purchase of approximately thirty firearms that are believed to have been smuggled into Boston, Massachusetts, in connection with criminal gang activity.
The defendants appeared today in federal court in Burlington before United States Magistrate Judge John M. Conroy and entered pleas of not guilty to the federal complaint charging them with false statements in connection with the purchase of firearms. The defendants were ordered temporarily detained pending a detention hearing on September 17, 2018.
According to the criminal complaint, the defendants provided or helped to provide false information to gun shops; namely, information representing that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves and not for another person. In fact, these defendants conducted “straw-purchases” of firearms in exchange for either cocaine or heroin from drug dealers operating in Saint Albans and Swanton, Vermont. The defendants completed firearm transaction forms when purchasing the firearms in which they falsely stated that they were the actual buyers of the firearms and were not unlawful users of any controlled substances. The gun shops that these individuals patronized in Vermont are currently licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives as federal firearms licensees and were not aware of the falsehoods involved in the straw-purchases.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan commended the collaborative investigation of ATF and the St. Albans Police Department leading to these important arrests. She noted, “This case highlights the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prioritize firearms offenses. Those who violate gun laws by diverting weapons to the black market endanger innocent citizens and empower dangerous criminals. Federal, state, and local law enforcement will work as a team to bring consequences for such conduct, and will target such individuals for federal prosecution.”
U.S. Attorney Nolan also noted that this prosecution 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. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.
“The straw purchasing and illegal trafficking of firearms is a serious criminal activity and often puts firearms in the hands of individuals who can’t legally purchase or possess them,” said Lawrence Panetta, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Boston Field Division. “ATF remains dedicated to identifying, investigating and arresting these individuals and making our streets and communities safer from violent firearm related acts.”
St. Albans Chief of Police Gary Taylor added, “This case is an excellent example of municipal law enforcement working with our federal law enforcement partners to make our community and our neighbors’ community in Boston safer.”
If convicted, Wells, Bessette, Lacoste, Baker, and West each faces up to ten years of imprisonment. The actual sentence, however, would be determined by the Court with guidance from the advisory Federal Sentencing Guidelines. The United States Attorney emphasizes that the charges in the complaint are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until they are proven guilty.
The United States is represented in this matter by Assistant U.S. Attorney Abigail Averbach. Tyson Wells is represented by the Office of the Public Defender. Dara Bessette is represented by Richard Goldsborough. Sierra Lacoste is represented by Richard Bothfeld. Laci Baker is represented by Ernest Allen III. Megan West is represented by Thomas Sherrer. The case is currently under investigation by ATF agents in Vermont and Massachusetts and the St. Albans Police Department.