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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Montana
For Immediate Release
Jesse Laslovich, United States Attorney
www.justice.gov/usao-mt
Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Helena Man Admits Possessing Unregistered Machine Gun

GREAT FALLS, Mont. — A Helena man today admitted to a firearms crime after law enforcement found an unregistered machine gun, along with other firearms and silencers, during a search of his home, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.

Justin Arthur Berger, 36, pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered machine gun. Berger faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian M. Morris presided. The court will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. The court set sentencing for March 20, 2024. Berger was detained pending further proceedings.

The government alleged in court documents that in December 2022, a friend of Berger’s notified the FBI in Helena that Berger had made statements about wanting to harm others in a mass shooting and that Berger expected he would be killed by law enforcement during a shootout. The friend also reported that Berger had several assault rifles and silencers. Law enforcement learned through an investigation that Berger indicated he was depressed, that he knew a lot about firearms and that he had manufactured a part what would convert an AR-15 into a fully automatic weapon. In addition, Berger had been seen firing rifles with the silencers attached at a makeshift shooting range. Law enforcement executed a search warrant on Berger’s home and located several firearms, including AR-style firearms, firearms components, a suspected short-barreled rifle, silencers and components for assembling silencers.

One of the firearms seized was determined to be a machine gun because it was capable of firing more than one round by a single function of the trigger. There was no record of Berger having registered a machine gun in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey K. Starnes is prosecuting the case. The FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Helena Police Department conducted the investigation.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department of Justice launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities and measuring the results.

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