By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The guns of Don Francis Simonpietri, more than 1,000 of them by law enforcement estimates, were loaded into a rental truck at the Front Royal Police headquarters Thursday and taken away to a federal facility for permanent storage.
The removal of the guns closed out a case that involved an investigation by the Front Royal Police Department, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Warren County Sheriff's Office, state police and Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force.
Simonpietri, owner of a pawnshop at 528 S. Royal Ave., also collected guns at his house. He was sentenced last year to 90 days in prison on two concurrent sentences, one for knowingly selling a firearm to a convicted felon and another for selling firearms without a license.
Law enforcement officials loading the guns estimated the total at 1,300 to 1,400. In addition to Simonpietri's, police said a few hundred were seized from defendants in Page and Madison counties.
"These people were just openly and willfully selling them with no regard," said Sgt. Jason Ryman of the Front Royal Police. Ryman said Simonpietri is now out on probation. His sentence included two years of supervised release.
Mike Schneider, resident agent in charge of the Martinsburg, W.Va. ATF field office, described the number of guns seized during the investigation as "one of the largest I've been involved with" in 23 years with the agency.
"It's pretty impressive," he added.
Ryman estimated the guns -- a variety of rifles, shotguns, handguns, revolvers, assault rifles and semi-automatic firearms -- to be worth between $300,000 and $400,000.
The guns were seized in 2009 at the end of an investigation begun by Front Royal Police after they fielded reports of illegal gun sales at Andrick's Flea Market on Commerce Avenue. Charles William Shipe, a convicted felon living in Strasburg at the time, was convicted with Simonpietri in the case.
Ryman said police used a convicted felon as a confidential informant to buy firearms from Simonpietri during the investigation. The owners of Andrick's were initially unaware of the illegal gun sales and later cooperated with police, Ryman said. He said the bulk of the weapons were seized from the pawnshop.
Schneider said the guns will be stored away at the ATF's Firearms Technology Branch in Martinsburg. Some may also appear at a museum the agency maintains in Martinsburg, he said.