MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Five people were indicted — including a former Hennepin County corrections officer and a cook at a Minneapolis high school — in what authorities are calling a conspiracy to equip gang members with guns, according to court documents unsealed Thursday.
A nine-count indictment in U.S. District Court in Minnesota alleges Jacquelyn Gina Burnes, 29, of Maple Grove, and Angela Carter, 32, bought guns for their boyfriends, who were barred from having firearms.
Burnes, the corrections officer who allegedly met her boyfriend when he was in jail, was fired in March, the Star Tribune reported. Carter, a cook at South High School, is currently on leave, according to Minneapolis Public Schools.
The indictment charges the women with conspiracy, as well as counts related to making false statements during gun purchases.
The indictment also charges three men — all gang members — with conspiracy. Diontre Ramone Hill, 20; Keniko Bland, 20; and Raheem Abdul Lee Watkins, 21, also face counts related to illegally possessing firearms.
It was not immediately clear if all of the defendants had attorneys. A message left with the federal defenders' office wasn't immediately returned.
Court documents show at least seven weapons and large amounts of ammunition were purchased, often with orders placed in coded conversations over jail telephone lines.
Federal authorities said the requests through the school worker and corrections officer make the case unique.
"This was a partnership between straw purchasers who showed a pattern of buying particular weapons and ammunition that was very quickly turning up in criminal acts," said Scott Sweetow, special agent in charge of the St. Paul office of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"We're interested in the recovery of firearms found in crimes," he told the newspaper, "but we're particularly concerned when the person involved holds a special position of public trust and abuses that trust."
The weapons turned up in local crimes. Two guns were recovered Wednesday, and Sweetow told The Associated Press agents were working on tracing them. It's possible they could be traced back to the two women, or they could lead agents to other buyers. Straw purchasers are people who buy firearms on behalf of those who are barred from buying guns themselves.
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said his office is committed to getting illegal weapons "off the streets and out of the hands of violent criminals. Straw buyer prosecutions are one way to accomplish this."
Burnes was fired in late March after authorities learned of her involvement with gang members, the Star Tribune reported. According to the indictment, she purchased three firearms in January and February for her boyfriend Hill, whom she met while he was in jail. In one case, a gun was retrieved in a traffic stop just eight days after the corrections officer bought it.
"For us, that's a very, very strong indicator of firearms trafficking ... a very strong indicator that something is going on, and something that gets our antennae up," Sweetow told the AP. Nationally, the average "time to crime" — the span in which a gun is used in a crime after its purchase — is between 10 and 11 years.
Sweetow said the ATF opened this case in late February, and began tracing weapons back to the women. Agents allege the women were purchasing firearms, ammunition and extended-round magazines — equipping these "allegedly prolific criminals" with a lot of firepower, he said.