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Wisconsin man investigated for illegally selling firearms at gun shows

A federal investigation is underway regarding a Wisconsin man suspected of illegally selling firearms at guns shows across the state, and some of the weapons ended up in the hands of criminals.

CBS 58 is not naming the suspect because formal charges haven’t been filed, though a spokeswoman for the ATF says the investigation is ongoing and charges are expected.

In January, ATF agents sized guns, ammunition and cash from the man’s home in rural Janesville. He is suspected of illegally dealing firearms between April of 2014 and January of 2017.

“Anybody that’s involved in the business of selling firearms and profiting off of the firearms they sell, they are required to have a federal firearms license,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Joel Lee.

According to federal court documents, the suspect “does not have a license to deal firearms” and never applied for one.

The ATF declined to comment specifically on this investigation, but Lee says cases like this require lengthy investigations. Agents need to prove the person was selling the guns “with the principal objective of livelihood and profit.”

“I would not say that it is common,” Lee said. “But we have had cases where we have brought federal charges.”

In 2016, a Wauwatosa man took a plea deal, after investigators say he bought hundreds of guns from Gander Mountain stores and re-sold them without a license. He was sentenced to two years probation and fined $25,000.

In the Janesville case, investigators found about $30,000 in cash and records of gun sales totaling almost $208,000 during their search. They also recovered business cards identifying the suspect as the owner of a gun business.

The suspect's wife told investigators they live off social security and income from the firearms sales. She claims he would buy the guns legally, she looked up the value online. Then the suspect would sell at gun shows across Wisconsin, including ones in Delavan, Waukesha and Milwaukee.

“The gun show operator is not obligated to check on licenses but a lot of the good ones do,” Lee said.

And unlike a licensed seller, the suspect "does not conduct background checks” according to court documents.

“There’s a huge trickle down effect,” Lee said. “Sometimes there are other crimes associated with that or the firearm that was sold.”

And in this case, several guns sold by the suspect did end up in the hands of criminals. In July of 2015 a man was arrested in Milwaukee County for carrying a firearm without a permit. In November of 2015, a felon was arrested in Milwaukee County on drug charges and was illegally carrying a gun.

Legitimate federal firearms licensees, like Steven Burroughs who owns LNL Gunworks LLC, say they take the responsibility of transferring and selling guns seriously.

“I feel the people on our side of the counter absolutely need to make sure we’re not just handing you a box and say have a nice day,” Burroughs said.

And Burroughs says if you want to know if you’re buying from a legal seller, simply ask to see the license.

“Most federal firearms licensees, they’re more than happy to post it [the license],” Burroughs said. “I post mine on the wall.”

According to the ATF, those breaking the law are often turned in by community members and even properly licensed sellers.

Most of the people are steadfast about doing things the right way,” Lee said.

An attorney for the Janesville man declined to comment on the case.

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