Feds Stage Multiple MO Gun Shop Raids

by Dave Workman
Senior Editor

Eight south-central Missouri residents have been indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with various federal firearms violations following raids on three gun shops in Springfield, MO, and unrelated raids on the same day in the towns of Marshfield and Mountain Grove.

Larry Scott, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) told Gun Week that the operation involved as many as 100 law enforcement personnel from his agency, the Internal Revenue Service, Missouri Highway Patrol, Greene County Sheriff’s Department and Springfield Police Department.

The raids culminated a lengthy investigation dating back three years, Scott confirmed. ATF agents spent at least two days removing computers and other files, and a “wide assortment” of firearms from the raided businesses. Scott said agents were taking extra care to wrap each firearm because some of them are “very expensive.”

Indicted for various federal firearms violations were: Cathleen and Steven Schlichting; John Robert Francis, his wife, Nancy, and her son (and his stepson) Barton Westerman; William Earl Gates, and Randall A. and Linda G. Sheridan. The Sheridans and Schlichtings were charged in a three-count indictment, while Gates and the Francises and Westerman face one-count indictments.

Scott told Gun Week that the raids, though carried out on the same day (Dec. 16), did not mean the cases are linked.

One count of the federal indictment against the Schlichtings and Sheridans alleges that Randall Sheridan aided and abetted by his wife and the Schlichtings was engaged in the business of dealing in firearms without a license during the month of January 2002.

A second count accuses Cathleen and Steven Schlichting of aiding one another in so-called straw man firearms transactions in which the true identities and places of residence of the real purchasers of several firearms were allegedly not properly documented. Cathleen holds a federal firearms license and is the owner of Gunsmoke Gun and Gold Exchange. Allegedly, Steven Schlichting was involved in facilitating several such straw man sales.

The third count alleges that Steven Schlichting presented a false Continuing Disability Report to the Railroad Retirement Board on Dec. 5, 2002 in which he claimed to have not worked nor been self-employed since April 1, 1995. The indictment said he had been working during that period.

According to court documents obtained by Gun Week, he sold several firearms to an individual for resale at a local pawn shop, although that business had no federal firearms license. He also allegedly sold a firearm through a straw man arrangement to one man who was buying it with money given him by another man who said he was prohibited from buying a firearm.

Steve Schlichting also is alleged to have removed firearms from the business to his home “without recording the transactions in his records.”

Nancy Francis owns Gunsmoke Gun and Pawn and the adjacent Westley Richards Agency gun shops, where her husband works, but is not permitted to deal in firearms due to a 1986 guilty plea on felony charges of conspiracy to deal firearms without a license. Because of that conviction, Bob Francis could only work in an area of the pawn shop that did not involve firearms. He cannot own or possess firearms. In the affidavit, the ATF asserts that, “Nancy Francis was warned in writing and in person that Bob Francis could not be in control, that is, in possession, of any firearms. Bob Francis was only allowed to work in the non-firearms part of the pawn business and the firearms were to be locked in a manner inaccessible to Bob Francis.”

Westerman, the son, who also works at his mother’s gun shop, was also accused of aiding and abetting Bob Francis. Francis allegedly met with or talked to a confidential informant several times during the past 15 months to discuss firearms sales, according to court papers. He was also alleged to have made several firearms transactions with confidential informants who secretly recorded the deals, since September 2002.

Gunsmoke Gun and Pawn is not connected to Gunsmoke Gun and Gold Exchange.

Gates, the proprietor of Gator’s Pawn stores in both Mountain Grove and Marshfield, was allegedly dealing in firearms without a license at the Marshfield location, even though his license for that store had expired. His license for the Mountain Grove location is still valid. An undercover federal agent allegedly purchased a shotgun from Gates at the Marshfield store.

According to The Springfield News-Leader, the raids began at 6 a.m. Dec. 16, and involved agents from several Midwestern states. All but Bob and Nancy Francis were taken into custody that morning, later appearing before federal Magistrate James England, who released them on their personal recognizance.

According to KYTV news in Springfield, Cathleen Schlichting asserted that ATF agents were looking for evidence against Sheridan, who owned a business that had previously occupied the same space as her shop, some two years ago. The shop was formerly called Gunsmoke Gun Gallery Inc., court documents said.

Don Ledford, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office in Kansas City, which oversees federal actions in the state’s western district, told Gun Week that it may be some time before any trials take place.

“Most of these cases don’t go to trial,” he noted. “Ninety percent of the time they plead guilty.”
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