DENVER — Gun store owners feared the call — a driver in a stolen vehicle rammed into their shop and dozens of guns were stolen. It was a common theme in the Denver metro, but federal authorities say they've made a major bust to break the chain.
Seventeen individuals have been indicted on state and federal charges in relation to the gun store burglaries, commonly described as smash and grabs. The charges relate to the thefts of 400 guns in 2017 alone.
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which investigates major crimes like the dozens of smash-and-grabs in Colorado, has been on the scene in the state for months. In hopes of solving the crime spree, they've dangled a reward of $10,000 to the public for information that might help solve the crimes, but they cracked the case on their own.
"It's multiple groups, there were different crews as we like to call them," Deborah Livingston, ATF Special Agent in Charge, said. "We believe we've arrested several of the major crews, but there have been some copy cats, and we've also arrested several of those crews."
Livingston described the crime as easy to do, and it all begins with a stolen car. The suspects ram the car into the business and steal guns once inside.
"They steal them because they're easy to sell, they get quick cash for something that retails for a high price," Livingston said. "And they're selling these things for pennies on the dollar."
The ATF is still working to recover the hundreds of guns stolen in the past year from Colorado stores alone, and their agents are searching for every last one.
"We have to recover every single firearm that's been stolen because they're a huge danger to public safety, everywhere, not just in the state of Colorado" Livingston said.
Now more than a dozen suspects are behind bars, and they stand accused of the largest and most covered gun store burglaries of the past year.
Dragonman [Dragon Arms, Inc.] in Colorado Springs, Aug. 28.
Indicted for the burglary are Calvin Terrell Stafford and Napoleon Williams.
According to reports, the two suspects traveled to Colorado from Missouri to buy marijuana, but decided while in Springfield to steal guns. They allegedly stole 19 guns from the gun store, selling the guns back in Missouri.
Top Dollar Pawn Shop in Colorado Springs, July 10.
Indicted for the burglary is Adam Mowery, who authorities accuse of taking the guns, then having an associate sell them on the street.
Authorities used undercover buys to track the theft back to Mowery, who was caught on surveillance camera.
Reports suggested Mowery took eight guns.
General stolen gun fencing
Cole Truitt Anderson is accused of possessing, concealing, storing and selling guns that he knew were stolen.
Police said he sold the guns across state lines.
Authorities say one federal indictment has yet to be unsealed, however they also referenced two cases in court in the State of Colorado. Suspects involved in those cases have yet to be identified.
Police say they haven't stopped investigating the cases in Colorado, as they believe those responsible for the few remaining unsolved crimes are still on the loose, but they're crediting their officers for their efforts to this point.
"Hard work by our agents, the cooperation with the District Attorney's Office, the United States District Attorney's Office, our state and local partners ... we all teamed together to hit this head on, and we did," Livingston said.
Mostly, Livingston said they were fulfilling a promise.
"We said we would get you and we did," Livingston said.
Charges and penalties
Livingston said each of the federal cases is slightly different, but the indictments lay out violation of serious federal gun laws.
"We have people looking from between 10 years and 20 years federal prison time," Livingston said.
Livingston said the penalties may come as a shock to some who are very young and may not have realized the full consequences of their actions.
"The fact is that this is a 10-year federal penalty, and then if you get caught with one of the stolen guns, it's another 10-year penalty. Twenty years is a huge hit in federal prison, so I hope that speaks volumes," Livingston said.
National trend and Colorado safety
The ATF is investigating similar cases across the nation, and their agents consider it a win to bust up a ring in one of the largest metro areas in the nation.
"For us to get ahead of this a little bit is a major accomplishment for the ATF," Livingston said.
The goal is to continue getting ahead of it by working with licensed firearms dealers to buff up security.
"We're hoping that some of the increased security measures at the gun stores help alleviate the time that [the criminals] can be in the store or even prohibit them from even getting into the store," Livingston said.
The guns on the streets represent a major safety threat to the general populace, ATF officials said.
"They're dangerous weapons, and in the wrong hands, they do dangerous things. They're guns, they kill people, so it's not like stealing a bracelet or a purse," Livingston said.