Five St. Albans residents have been arrested by the Federal Agents after there was an investigation linked to the purchasing firearms for other people, bypassing background check regulations.
According to recently released court records, Tyson Wells, Dara Bessette, Sierra Lacoste, Laci Baker, and Megan West were indicted in the scheme.
The five, all of whom are from St. Albans, are accused of purchasing firearms from local gun shops, claiming the firearms were for themselves, when in fact, according to detectives, the firearms were actually to be traded for drugs within St. Albans and Swanton. Those drugs, according to police, included heroin and cocaine.
All firearms transactions in Vermont require a background check, even those done at the private level. In completing a background check, one must state the gun they are purchasing is for themselves, not for someone else. A purchaser must also agree that they are not users of controlled substances.
Purchasing a firearm for another person is considered a “straw purchase,” which is illegal under federal law. If convicted for making straw purchases, each of the five could face up to 10 years in Federal Prison.
The investigation was a culmination between St. Albans Police and ATF, but police say many of the firearms were being redistributed to the Boston area. Law enforcement thinks those guns were then distributed to gang members who could not otherwise purchase a firearm.
“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 Police Chief Gary Taylor touted the bust as an “excellent example of municipal law enforcement working with our federal law enforcement partners.”
According to public records, the government has accused the five of illegally purchasing about 30 firearms.
All five were detained after their arraignment today, pending a detention hearing next week.
Most of the five have relatively clean records, but Megan West, according to public records was on probation for retail theft at the time of her arrest.
U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan said “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.”