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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Maryland
For Immediate Release
Erek L. Barron, United States Attorney
www.justice.gov/usao-md
Friday, October 20, 2023

North Carolina and North Dakota Police Chiefs and Federal Firearms Licensees Indicted for Conspiracy To Illegally Acquire Machineguns and Other Firearms

BALTIMORE — A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging five defendants with a conspiracy to illegally acquire machineguns and other regulated firearms. Charged in the indictment, which was unsealed yesterday are: Sean Reidpath Sullivan, age 38, of Gambrills, Maryland; Larry Allen Vickers, age 60, of Charlotte, North Carolina; James Christopher Tafoya, age 45, of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Matthew Jeremy Hall, age 53, of Four Oaks, North Carolina and James Sawyer, age 50, of Ray, North Dakota.

The indictment was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Baltimore Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge Kareem A. Carter of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), Washington, D.C. Field Office and Inspector General Joseph Y. Cuffari of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG).

According to the 26-count indictment, Hall and Sawyer were Chiefs of Police in Coats, North Carolina and Ray, North Dakota, respectively. Sullivan was the owner and operator of Trident, LLC, located in Gambrills, Maryland, and was also an Intelligence Analyst with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations. Sullivan and Trident were Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) and Special Occupational Taxpayers (SOTs), which allowed them, in certain circumstances, to possess, import, manufacture and deal in fully automatic firearms (machineguns) and other regulated firearms. Tafoya and Vickers owned and operated firearms related businesses in New Mexico and North Carolina and were also FFLs and SOTs.

The indictment alleges that, beginning in at least June 2018 through at least March 2021, the defendants conspired to acquire machineguns and/or other restricted firearms, such as short-barreled rifles, by falsely representing that the firearms would be used for demonstration to law enforcement agencies, including the Coats Police Department and the Ray Police Department. The indictment further alleges that Hall, Sawyer and other conspirators signed law letters with no expectation that the weapons would ever be demonstrated to their respective law enforcement agencies.

The defendants allegedly intended to impermissibly import into the United States and resell the machineguns and other firearms for profit or to keep for their own use and enjoyment. Sullivan allegedly submitted the false law letters to the ATF seeking to import the machineguns and other restricted weapons. Once the firearms were received, Sullivan allegedly kept some of the machineguns and other restricted weapons and transferred some of the weapons to Vickers, Tafoya, and other conspirators.

In addition to the indictment, Larry Vickers pleaded guilty yesterday to participating in the conspiracy to import and obtain machineguns and other restricted firearms and admitted that he received some of the imported machineguns and other weapons. As detailed in his plea agreement, Vickers kept some of the machineguns and other restricted weapons in his personal collection and transferred other machineguns and restricted weapons to other FFLs and third parties. Vickers also pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to violate U.S. sanctions against a foreign firearms manufacturer between July 2014 and March 2021, in the Southern District of Florida.

Vickers faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for conspiracy to violate federal law regulating firearms and a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. U.S. District Judge Julie R. Rubin has not yet scheduled sentencing for Vickers.

If convicted, Sullivan, Tafoya, Hall, and Sawyer face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for conspiracy to violate federal law regulating firearms and for each count of false statements related to submission of a law letter. Sullivan and Tafoya face a maximum of five years in federal prison for each count of unlawful importation of a firearm and for each count of making a false statement in records maintained by FFLs. Sullivan also faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison for unlawful possession of unregistered machineguns and 10 years in federal prison for using criminal proceeds to conduct financial transactions. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Sullivan and Tafoya have already had an initial appearance U.S. District Court in Baltimore and were released pending trial. Hall and Sawyer are expected to have an initial appearance at a later date.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the ATF, the FBI, the IRS-CI and DHS-OIG for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys P. Michael Cunningham and Christine Goo, who are prosecuting the case and recognized Trial Attorneys Menno Goedman and Sean O’Dowd of the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Criminal Division, respectively, for their work on the Vickers guilty plea.

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