A St. Paul man has been indicted on a charge of illegally selling large quantities of weapons online while posing as a gun collector, one of the first cases charged in the wake of President Obama's pledge to crack down on unregulated firearms sales.
Several of the handguns allegedly sold by Eitan Benjamin Feldman, 29, soon turned up at Twin Cities crime scenes, according to a 10-count indictment unsealed Thursday.
The indictment is just the third unlicensed-seller case charged by the U.S. attorney's office in the last decade.
"There isn't a magic number that you have to sell [to need a license]," said James Modzelewski, special agent in charge of the Minnesota field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). "If you're in the business, you do it repeatedly and you do it for profit."
The indictment says Feldman regularly bought firearms — mostly handguns — from licensed out-of-state sellers using an online auction site, had the weapons transferred to a Burnsville gun shop where he received them, and then quickly advertised them for sale on another website that facilitates gun sales without criminal background checks.
The allegations span two years, with Feldman's final sale last month at a shopping mall parking lot to an undercover officer used by the ATF.
Agents arrested Feldman Thursday and he later appeared in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, where he faces one count of willfully engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license and nine counts of making a false statement during a firearm purchase. The charges are punishable by up to five years in prison.
The indictment follows an announcement by President Obama last month that the U.S. Department of Justice would toughen federal gun control efforts, including a warning that "a person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms" even if they conduct transactions only at gun shows or online. Those doing so, Obama said, must obtain a license just as do dealers who run their businesses out of a traditional storefront.
Linked to local crimes
According to the indictment, Feldman advertised on a website called Armslist.com to sell more than 40 guns he had earlier bought from licensed dealers online.
Feldman first had the firearms transferred to L.E. Gun Sales in Burnsville, where he would receive them after completing required paperwork and submitting to a background check.
He is accused of falsifying a required ATF form for transactions at the store.
Feldman often listed the firearms for sale within days of receiving them, and at a higher price than he paid for them, according to the indictment.
It also accuses him of falsely implying that he had owned the firearms longer than he actually did.
The ATF found evidence linking him to several handguns used in violent crimes and drug trafficking. A Ruger .380 pistol allegedly purchased from Feldman was used in Minneapolis just one week after he obtained the weapon.
Minneapolis police found shell casings from the pistol at the scene of a March 2015 shots-fired call, and they were later linked to an April assault, according to court documents.
Bloomington police investigating the transport of 50 pounds of marijuana to Minnesota also found a Taurus .38-caliber revolver that one suspect allegedly bought from Feldman.
Last fall, federal agents served Feldman with a written notice of unlicensed firearms dealing and warned that if he did not stop, he could face criminal prosecution.
"Wherever that line is, Mr. Feldman crossed it some time ago," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said. "And he was warned that he was crossing it, so there could absolutely be no mistake."
But Feldman allegedly continued his business: From October to January 2016, authorities said, Feldman dealt at least eight firearms — largely semi-automatic pistols.
ATF agents working undercover in December bought a Taurus M85 .38-caliber revolver from him in a mall parking lot, according to court documents.
The day before the deal, Feldman told the undercover buyer that he was a gun collector and had owned the revolver for about three months "when in fact he had just received the firearm about nine days before."
He did not ask the officer for identification or seek to determine whether he was prohibited from buying a firearm, according to court documents.
The ATF used another undercover officer to buy a semi-automatic rifle from Feldman last month, again in a mall parking lot.
Feldman told the officer he had last shot the firearm in August, but had actually received it a week before.
Since Obama announced his crackdown on unregulated gun sales in January, it has been unclear if the government can effectively enforce the reclassification of people pretending to be hobbyists as weapons proprietors.
Private sales between people in the same state are not heavily regulated.
Luger cast Thursday's charges as a message to others tempted to fraudulently pass themselves off as collectors.
"Feldman used this exception in violation of the law to get around background checks to endanger all of us," Luger said.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755