AudioAudio: Timothy J. Heaphy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, at Monday's press conference
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Man admits to illegal sales of firearms, forfeits 1,176 guns
By Ben Orcutt - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- A longtime Front Royal businessman is facing up to 15 years in a federal prison after pleading guilty Monday to two counts of illegal sales of firearms.
Timothy J. Heaphy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, was flanked by hundreds of guns forfeited by Don Francis Simonpietri during a Monday news conference at the Warren County Government Center.
Heaphy said that earlier on Monday, Simonpietri, 64, of 9503 Stonewall Jackson Highway, Front Royal, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville to one count of knowingly selling a firearm to a convicted felon and one count of selling firearms without a license.
Simonpietri remains free on bond pending sentencing in Harrisonburg on June 21. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Huber, who prosecuted the case, said Simonpietri faces up to 10 years in prison on the sale of a gun to a convicted felon and up to five years in prison for selling firearms without a license.
As part of his plea agreement, Heaphy said Simonpietri agreed to forfeit to the federal government 1,176 firearms that were seized by authorities in 2009 from his residence and his pawn shop at 528 S. Royal Ave.
An employee at the pawn shop said Monday that it remains open and that Simonpietri is still the owner.
About a third of the seized guns were on display at the Government Center on Monday.
"We display these guns not as trophies, but rather as a reminder of the importance of stopping the illegal trafficking of guns," Heaphy said. "The fact that people put guns in the hands of criminals is of great concern to law enforcement, and this recovery of this number of weapons is meant to be a testament to that importance and the hard work of these agents in taking those guns off the street. Every single one of these guns could have ended up in the hands of a convicted felon or some other dangerous person. They could have been used in violent crimes and we would never have known that.
"Fortunately the guns did not [end] up in the wrong hands. They've been seized from Mr. Simonpietri and forfeited to the federal government. They'll never be used to commit further crimes."
Heaphy said Simonpietri lost his federal firearms license in 2005 but continued to sell guns.
"The loss of his license did not stop Mr. Simonpietri from engaging in the business of selling guns," Heaphy said. "Instead of obeying the law and closing his gun business, Mr. Simonpietri stockpiled a cache of more than a thousand guns. He acquired additional guns and resold them. He basically took what had been a legitimate business and moved it underground, moved it to the black market, continued to sell guns without the required federal firearms license."
In 2009, patrol officers from the Front Royal Police Department initiated an investigation into the illegal sale of firearms at Andrick's Flea Market on Commerce Avenue, according to Police Chief Richard H. Furr.
From that point, the investigation began to involve the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Heaphy said, as well as the Warren County Sheriff's Office and the commonwealth attorney's office, the state police and the Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force.
Heaphy said over a period of time, agents made a series of controlled purchases at the flea market from Simonpietri and his partner, Charles William Shipe, 67, a convicted felon formerly of 937 Pouts Hill Road, Strasburg, but with a last known address of Charlottesville.
Shipe has pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to knowingly selling a firearm to a convicted felon and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to online court records. Shipe remains free on bond pending sentencing April 21 in Harrisonburg.
"The fact that Mr. Simonpietri and Mr. Shipe were dealing with a felon was no concern to either man," Heaphy said.
Heaphy said that neither Simonpietri nor Shipe kept records of who the guns were sold to.
"The only way for law enforcement to know when a gun is used in a crime where it came from is if these rules are enforced, if there is a record of where it was sold, where it was bought," Heaphy said. "That is crucial for us."
Simonpietri is the last of seven area defendants to be prosecuted as a result of the investigation, with three being prosecuted federally and the other four locally. Heaphy said he will ask for prison time for Simonpietri, even though Simonpietri does not have a criminal record.
"But the magnitude of the guns that were seized and the significance of the counts to which he pled guilty will likely produce a recommended guideline range to the judge that calls for some jail time," Heaphy said. "And again, our request at sentencing will be that he serve some time in prison."
Authorities said about 1,350 guns were seized from the seven defendants with a street value of $250,000 to $350,000.
"I've been doing this 30-some odd years, 20-plus with ATF," said ATF special agent and public information officer Mike Campbell of the Washington Field District, "and this is one of the largest gun seizures I've seen in my time and we've taken a lot of guns in over the years."