DENVER — One of the thieves behind two smash-and-grab style robberies in the Denver metro area has been arrested, and police say they owe credit to social media and a concerned witness.
Officers say Viet Trinh, 18, now faces federal charges of theft from the inventory of a federal firearms licensee. The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years behind bars and a fine of up to $250,000.
Information of the arrest surfaced on the same day that yet another gun store smash-and-grab was announced, and the trend is a growing concern for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
Like many of the recently reported burglaries, Trinh is accused of stealing weapons from Shooter Ready, along with three other people who were dressed in hoodies, masks and gloves on Nov. 10, 2016.
The group allegedly used a rock to break the front door and then pilfer 25 guns from inside the business.
“The unfortunate aspect is that firearms ended up on the street and in the hands of people that shouldn’t have them,” said shop owner Juan Lopez.
One victim thinking about exiting business
A few weeks later, Trinh and his accomplices allegedly struck Parker Arms Gun Shop in Wheat Ridge.
Owner Robert Parker told Denver7 that with a recent rash of “smash and grabs” across the metro area, he worries that his shop will get hit again.
“I love the gun business,” he said, “but the smash and grabs have taken the fun out of it.”
He said he’s thinking of getting out of the gun business because it’s getting too stressful.
“I wake up at 2:00 every morning and lie there and wait for a phone call from the security company telling me that my building has been broken into again.”
The investigation into the thefts began shortly after each burglary, but an arrest warrant was only filed by ATF agents last Thursday after they compiled enough evidence.
An arrest affidavit details how the ATF advanced their investigation when a concerned witness, who eventually became a confidential informant for the ATF, approached police and told them the names of five people involved in the smash-and-grab.
Police then tracked the movements of the suspects online, when they say they saw Trinh, who used the alias Kyle Zimmerman, post multiple selfies with the stolen guns online.
Trinh allegedly attempted to sell the guns to friends and acquaintances, some who wanted to buy the guns for below board uses.
Police say that evidence was also on his (Zimmerman) Facebook page.
In one conversation, Trinh wrote to one potential buyer: “Know anyone that wants to buy a baby .40? $300.”
When asked by another Facebook user if he had another “strap” (gun,) Trinh replied, “Got my 9” wit 2 full clips. Mixed with poison hallows, regular hallows and strait meadle jackets.”
Agents say they eventually were able to track down Trinh and question the young man, at which time he became angry and shouted at authorities after they asked him to help recover the stolen guns.
Agents investigating the case say they used caution because in his Facebook messenger history, he had expressed the desire to kill police in the past.
Eventually, police booked Trinh, along with others in the case who have been identified as minors, and prosecutors issued charges.
Prosecution is seeking imprisonment if Trinh is found guilty, however documents have not yet been made available on the other defendants.
A trial is expected to take five days when it is scheduled.
Advice to other shop owners
Lopez increased security after the November heist, but thieves tried to target him again.
You can see a couple of huge “spider web” cracks in the glass at the front entrance.
Brodie Mathews of Tint America Window Films says the stronger glass kept the thieves from breaking through.
Lopez had a word of advice for other shop owners.
“Make sure that you’re securing your firearms every night,” he said. “It’s a hassle to do it. It takes at least a half hour to put them away in the vault, but please take the time to do that.”