Six men have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Baltimore for conspiring to steal firearms from gun dealers in Maryland and Northern Virginia to resell to street criminals.
The indictments, which were returned last Thursday but unsealed yesterday, charge that the gang conspired to burglarize the licensed gun shops between March and July of this year.
Named in the indictment were Alvin A. Simons, 31, of New Carrollton; Tyrone C. Wright, 36, of Hyattsville; Anthony A. Frazier-Bey, 33, of Rockville; Arthur F. Simons, 28, of Landover; James L. Avery, 21, of Bladensburg; and Jimmy Merle Turner -- whose age was given by federal authorities as either 53 or 54 -- of Alexandria, Va.
Since August 1990, there have been 51 burglaries or attempted burglaries of gun dealers in an area ranging from Hanover County, Virginia, which is north of Richmond, to Annapolis, according to Stephen E. Higgins, director of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. More than 1,000 guns were stolen in the burglaries, he said.
"We believe that there are other gunrunners working in the metropolitan Washington area, and we are working closely with local police to identify and shut them down," Mr. Higgins said.
Scattered gun shops were hit during the past 12 months. Shops burglarized in Maryland include two each in Waldorf and Wheaton as well as stores in Silver Spring, Bryantown, College Park, Temple Hills, Owings Mills and Burtonsville.
Federal officials said that they cannot recall when such a large number of gun shop burglaries have occurred in such a short period of time in such a relatively small geographical area.
"Trafficking in stolen guns undermines the federal goal of keeping deadly weapons out of the wrong hands," said Richard D. Bennett, the U.S. attorney for Maryland. "This indictment is part of the federal commitment to tough enforcement of laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of lawbreakers."
The investigation of the gun thefts was part of a national program known as Operation Triggerlock, in which state, local and federal law enforcement officials work to keep illegal guns off the streets.
The operation also uses federal laws to target career criminals.
In addition to being charged with conspiracy, Alvin Simons and Mr. Frazier-Bey were charged in separate counts for violating federal laws that prohibit convicted felons from possessing firearms.
Alvin Simons and Mr. Wright were also charged with unlawful sale of stolen firearms.
Federal officials said that two of the defendants, Alvin Simons and Mr. Wright, were already in custody. Mr. Frazier-Bey turned himself into the federal magistrate in Hyattsville and has been released pending trial. Mr. Turner was arrested in Georgia. Mr. Avery and Arthur F. Simons were still at large yesterday, federal officials said.
Local police departments that participated in the gun theft investigation included the Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Montgomery police departments and the sheriff's departments of Frederick County and Hanover County in Virginia.