Tuscaloosa announces arrests in monthslong straw purchasing investigation

Tuscaloosa Police Presser

More than 100 weapons are off the streets around Tuscaloosa in the wake of a multi-unit law enforcement operation, Tuscaloosa Police announced Monday.

The initiative between the Tuscaloosa Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama and the Tuscaloosa County District Attorney’s Office targeted people prohibited from possessing firearms because of prior felony convictions. These people are accused of using third parties to purchase weapons on their behalf in what is known as “straw purchases.”

Straw purchases are illegal under federal and state law, and the buyer and seller are prosecutable.

As a result of the operation:

  • TPD investigators obtained warrants against nine offenders on 20 felony charges. As of Monday, four have been taken into custody.
  • 13 offenders had been taken into custody on federal charges, with additional investigations ongoing.
  • More than 100 weapons were taken out of our communities as a result of these joint efforts.

“Many of these weapons are being trafficked into other states and being used in crimes,” said TPD Assistant Chief Steve Rice. “Straw purchases are one of the main ways firearms enter the illegal market.”

Most of these arrests are the results of a two-and-a-half month-long investigation, but some cases originated more than a year ago. Many arrests were the result of investigators tracing back the origins of a weapon that was used in a crime.

“We have convicted felons who are convincing or paying third parties to break the law for them,” Rice said. “The guns aren’t ending up with people who keep them in a nightstand for protection, or who take them out to the range to shoot on a Saturday. They’re ending up in the hands of people who are committing crimes and this puts the community at risk.”

Defendants accused of making straw purchases obtained firearms from authorized retailers in Tuscaloosa. Investigators learned that the weapons were later transferred to people who are prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.

When making a straw purchase, buyers sign an ATF Form 4473 that certifies they will be the owner of the firearm.

The state charge of lying on a form to obtain a firearm is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $250,000.

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