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Thirteen Arrested for Gang-Related Thefts of 93 Guns

From a press release

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, Special Agent-in-Charge EricDeGree of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division; and Springfield Township Police Chief Michael Pitkow announce the arrests two adults and 11 juveniles on charges related to three burglaries and one attempted burglary of federal firearms licensed dealers, i.e. gun  stores, in Montgomery and Bucks Counties.

In total, 93 firearms were stolen. Just 33 firearms have been recovered by law enforcement, leaving 60 firearms on the streets and unaccounted for.

In adult court, two adults and two direct-filed juveniles, all from Philadelphia, were charged: Angel Mason, 40, of Poplar Street, Elijah Terrell, 16, also of Poplar Street, Donte Purnell, 22, of Olympus Place, and Liv Hall, 18, of Parish Street. Nine juveniles from West Philadelphia, who ranged in age from 14 to 17 years old, were charged in Juvenile Court and their names were not released.

The three burglaries and an attempted burglary of gun stores occurred between Sept. 24, 2022, and Nov. 20, 2022. All were overnight burglaries that occurred between 2 and 4:30 a.m. In each successful burglary, a group of the defendants gained access to each gun store, smashed glass display cases and grabbed numerous firearms before fleeing. The details of each burglary are:

· Sept. 24, 2022 (4:22 a.m.): Founding Fathers Outfitters, Lafayette Hill section of Springfield Township, Montgomery County: 26 firearms stolen, 6 recovered to date by law enforcement, including one used in a shooting incident in Philadelphia and one found on a suspect involved in a Sept. 29, 2022 homicide in Philadelphia. Also of note regarding this burglary, the burglars drove a 2020 Kia Forte that had been stolen in Philadelphia just prior to the burglary.

· Nov. 12, 2022 (4:20 a.m.): Target Word Gun Shop, in Chalfont, New Britain Township in Bucks County: 32 pistols, 8 rifles and one suppressor stolen, 10 firearms recovered to date by law enforcement through search warrants.

· Nov. 20, 2022 (2:15 a.m.): Attempted Burglary of Continental Armory in Hatboro in Montgomery County; burglary was interrupted when an individual heard breaking glass and called 911.

· Nov. 20, 2022 (2:41 a.m.): Tanners Sports Center in Warwick Township in Bucks County; 27 firearms stolen, 16 recovered by law enforcement, including one used in an armed robbery in Pennsauken, N.J. on Dec. 14, 2022. The getaway vehicle fled at speeds over 100 mph.

The joint investigation into these gun store burglaries was led by the Montgomery County Detective Bureau, Bucks County Detective Bureau, the ATF—Philadelphia Field Division and Springfield Township Police, with critical participation by Philadelphia Police, Hatboro Police, New Britain Township Police, Warwick Township Police. The investigators also  received assistance from the FBI, the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General and the Delaware State Police.

Through the use of numerous investigative techniques including interviews, physical surveillance, video surveillance, social media analysis and cellphone data and records, the investigation found that several members of a known, neighborhood-based juvenile street gang in Philadelphia—called “54th Street”—were responsible for the three completed gun store burglaries and one attempted gun store burglary in Montgomery and Bucks counties. The evidence found that the group also planned and had not yet executed two additional gun store burglaries. Criminal activity commonly associated with “54th Street” includes, but is not limited to, car-jackings, robberies, burglaries and gun violence, especially directed at rival groups.

The completed gun store burglaries resulted in 93 stolen guns. Detectives found that those stolen firearms were rapidly distributed and illegally transferred between members of the corrupt organization and to others, which led to the use of these stolen guns to commit crimes.

Of the 33 recovered stolen firearms, several have been recovered by law enforcement during the commission of crimes.

· Sept. 26, 2022: a Glock 17 firearm stolen two days earlier was recovered by Philadelphia Police in the possession of Ellijah Terrell on scene of an armed robbery at 5500 Poplar Street in Philadelphia;

· Oct. 5, 2022: an H&K 9mm firearm stolen during the Sept. 24, 2022 burglary was recovered by Philadelphia Police when they executed a search warrant related to a Sept. 29, 2022 shooting at 54th Street and Willows Avenue where a 16-year-old died of a gunshot wound to the head and a 14-year-old was also shot but survived,

· Dec. 14, 2022: a firearm stolen from the Tanner Sports Center burglary was recovered by Pensauken, N.J. Police after it was used by juvenile in an armed robbery.

“These defendants brazenly broke into gun stores and stole nearly 100 firearms, then sold and transferred them widely throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. With 60 firearms unaccounted for, we still don’t know the extent of the damage by this corrupt organization’s criminal activities, including shootings and murders,” said Steele.

“These arrests have made our communities safer and came about because of the excellent joint investigation with our numerous local, state and federal law enforcement partners.”

“DA Steele took the word that I would use to describe this organized criminal rampage right out of my mouth: ‘Brazen,” said Weintraub. “Together, we fight hard every day against lawless criminals that steal and use crime guns to terrorize our communities, regardless of whose borders they cross. And we will not rest. More to come.”

One of the key partners in this joint investigation was the ATF. “Burglaries of federal firearms licensees are a top priority for ATF, and we are eager to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions,” said ATF SAIC DeGree. “The theft of firearms from FFLs and their diversion into the illegal firearms marketplace is a very serious crime that affects all the citizens of the Commonwealth. We will continue to work alongside our local, county, state and federal partners to seek justice for anyone who violates the federal firearms laws.”

Charges vary by defendant, but all include felony charges related to operating a corrupt organization, conspiracy, criminal use of a communications facility and firearms trafficking charges. Other charges against defendants include burglary,  criminal trespass, robbery, theft, receiving stolen property, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer and possessing an instrument of crime.

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GUTOWSKI: Biden’s New ATF Nominee Already Generating Controversy

President Biden is again trying to get a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed, but he is already dealing with a significant hurdle.

He announced former prosecutor Steve Dettelbach as his pick to become the permanent director of the ATF. Dettelbach will now face a rough confirmation process, one that his predecessor David Chipman did not make it through. It got that much harder with news that Dettelbach had repeatedly used heated rhetoric to cast doubt on the integrity of Ohio’s elections while running for attorney general. He accused his opponent, Dave Yost: “Don’t let Yost distract you. He is part of this mess. … Secret meetings. Rigged elections,” Dettelbach tweeted on April 11, 2018.

A review of Dettelbach’s social media by The Reload found he declared in at least 17 tweets that elections in Ohio were “rigged” in several different ways. He told local media the same thing. In November 2017, he wrote an op-ed accusing Yost of defending a voter registration policy he labeled “insidious” and the equivalent to cheating.

“It’s about whether elected officials can rig the political system to get a partisan edge,” Dettelbach said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Dettelbach’s  comments. However, Biden said nominating him was necessary to combat the recent murder spike and enact his efforts to tighten gun regulations.

“Steve is immensely qualified,” Biden said. “Steve’s record makes him ready on day one to lead this agency.”

Dettelbach spent several decades as a prosecutor. He was unanimously confirmed to be a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in 2009. However, his career took a political turn after leaving the office in 2016. In 2017, he launched his unsuccessful campaign for attorney general.

During that race, Dettelbach established his support for gun-control laws from universal background checks to an “assault weapons” ban while speaking with a local NPR affiliate. Yost ended up winning by about four points.

Biden’s nomination of an ATF director just a few months from the midterm elections will likely elevate guns as a campaign issue. Dettelbach’s confirmation hearing could come within the next month and, should he receive bipartisan support, a vote could follow soon after. However, Dettelbach’s rhetoric and record as a political candidate could make his confirmation more difficult and cause the process to stretch out past August as it did with Chipman, who withdrew his nomination to head the agency.

Moderate senators will decide the ATF nominee’s fate as only 50 votes are required for confirmation. The president has to persuade independent Angus King  of Maine and Democrats Jon Tester of Montana, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to back Dettelbach. None of them publicly said they would have voted for Chipman, and King was widely cited as the main roadblock to his confirmation.

Gun-control groups, several of whom endorsed Dettelbach in his 2018 race, were enthused by the pick. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said it was the result of her group’s efforts and called on the Senate to confirm him quickly.

However, his confirmation is already facing skepticism from the firearms industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, said it would “listen carefully” to Dettelbach’s comments at his confirmation hearing, but will only support an ATF director who “will not politicize the ATF to advance a partisan gun-control agenda.”

Gun-rights groups were more blunt, with the National Rifle Association calling the pick Biden’s way of doubling-down “on his attempt to put a gun-control advocate in charge of the agency responsible for regulating America’s firearms industry.”

During his nomination remarks, Dettelbach pledged support for ATF agents and staff. He said he would focus the agency on fighting gun violence by going after gang members and individual criminals alike.

“As we emerge from this pandemic, we’ve got to recognize many Americans still face fear and isolation not because of a virus but because of an epidemic of firearms violence,” he said. “It’s not a new problem, and it has many causes. That’s why it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck partnership approach to address that issue. And the ATF will be there.”

Since it became a Senate-confirmable position back in 2006, only one permanent ATF director has been confirmed. For years, the agency has been run by a series of short-term acting directors. Dettelbach is the latest to try to buck that trend.

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