Police: Christmas Eve firefighter shooter used ‘straw purchaser’ to acquire weapons
The 62-year-old convicted felon who gunned down two firefighters and wounded three first responders on Christmas Eve in Webster, New York used weapons his neighbor illegally purchased for him, according to state and federal authorities.
The neighbor, 24-year-old Dawn Nguyen, was arrested on Friday after police traced the serial numbers on two weapons used by William Spengler, the shooter: a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun, both purchased in 2010. (RELATED: ‘Firefighter of the year’ murdered in upstate New York ambush)
While this so-called “straw purchasing” is illegal, the U.S. Department of Justice sanctioned the practice between 2006 and 2011.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed straw purchasers to illegally purchase approximately 2,000 firearms as and transport them across the United States’ southern border as part of Operation Fast and Furious, in an apparent attempt to track the guns to high-level officials in Mexico’s drug cartels.
None of those top officials has been arrested, and the operation has led to the deaths of an estimated 300 Mexican nationals and at least one U.S. Border Patrol agent. (RELATED: Univision report connects Operation Fast and Furious scandal to murders of Mexican teenagers)
Nguyen violated federal law by signing a form declaring to a gun retailer that she would be the sole owner of the firearms, U.S. Attorney William Hochul said Friday. She also faces a state charge of filing a falsified business record, a state police investigator added.
“She told the seller of these guns … that she was to be the true owner and buyer of the guns instead of William Spengler,” Hochul said. “It is absolutely against federal law to provide any materially false information related to the acquisition of firearms. … It is sometimes referred to acting as a straw purchaser, and that is exactly what today’s complaint alleges.”
Hochul added that Spengler’s handwritten suicide note mentioned that he had acquired the guns with Nguyen’s help. Nguyen lived next door to Spengler for a time, Hochul said.
The federal charges alone could send Nguyen to prison for a maximum of 10 years and levy a fine of $250,000. Both Nguyen and her brother told the media after the shooting that Spengler had stolen the weapons from her, but Nguyen later called police and admitted buying the guns for Spengler, according to police.
Spengler also possessed a .38-caliber revolver during the shooting, which he reportedly used to shoot himself in the head after his rampage. That weapon has not been connected to Nguyen.