According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Lee, 44-year-old Michael Paul Grisham Smith of Grass Valley pleaded guilty to charges of dealing and manufacturing firearms. The charges against Michael Smith stemmed from an undercover operation that saw Smith sell untraceable firearms to an undercover agent.
Court documents from the arrest of Smith revealed that he contacted an undercover agent who posed as a vendor for firearms in an undisclosed darknet marketplace. Smith was looking to sell “ghost guns,” AR-15s that lack serial numbers and are thus untraceable since they cannot be tied to any registered firearms manufacturer. Accepting payment in bitcoin, Smith managed to sell eight AR-15 rifles with no serial numbers in the period between the 1st of December 2017 and February 15th, 2018.
The operation against Smith began at the beginning of October 2017, when Smith going by the username “BrotherBig” contacted the undercover agent offering to buy weapons such as grenades and explosives. The purchase did not happen, and Smith ended up offering to sell untraceable AR15s that he was manufacturing, to the agent. At first, the undercover agent ordered four rifles for $4,400 in bitcoin, and on November 14th Smith sent him a photo of the four guns as evidence. After agreeing on the terms of trade, Smith delivered the weapons on the 1st of December.
Smith and the agent later began negotiations for the trade of another four rifles. The talks were delayed by the arrest of Smith on the 5th of December by deputies of the Nevada County Sheriff’s office after he was tied to a burglary case. Smith was however not held for long and contacted the agent on the 14th of December and informed him that the weapons were ready for collection. The two completed the trade on the 4th of January this year.
After this trade, the two arranged yet another exchange for which the agent made a down payment of $2,600 in bitcoin. They then scheduled the delivery for the 15th of February. But unfortunately for Smith, an arrest and search warrant against him had already been issued. On meeting the undercover agent to make the delivery Smith was arrested, and his home searched resulting in the seizure of firearms, LSD, and methamphetamine. Smith had five weapons on him during his arrest that he intended to sell to the undercover agent. The timing of Smith’s arrest coincided with the Florida school shooting where an AR-15 was used to carry out the attack. The shooting resulted in the death of 17 people.
Court documents revealed that Smith had asked the agent to confirm that he was in no way working with a law enforcement agency, which made Smith easily trust him. Smith was selling weapons even though he and his wife had been prohibited from handling any weapons.
He was indicted on the same day along two other suspects, 22-year-old Jesus Rodriguez, and Raymond Sykes, 23 all charged with manufacturing and selling firearms without a license. It is alleged that these offenders used a drill press to mill AR-15 metal castings acquired online into the proper shape required to hold other AR-15 parts to produce fully functioning rifles. Rifles made via such methods are untraceable and are sold to anyone without regard for criminal records. According to Graham Barlowe, the resident agent in charge of the ATF field office in Sacramento, California, ghost guns are a huge concern in his area of jurisdiction. He also disclosed that his ATF undercover agents managed to purchase 250 ghost guns in 2017, resulting in a significant rise in the number of busts.
Smith first appeared in court on the 16th of February and was charged with unlawful dealing and manufacturing of firearms and illegal possession of unregistered weapons. In total Smith managed to sell eight rifles to the undercover agent, seven of which were self-made and had no serial numbers, the eighth rifle was a standard AR-15 whose serial number had been removed.
Attorney Lee disclosed that Smith’s sentencing will be held on the 7th of September. Smith could spend a maximum of five years behind bars accompanied by a $250,000 fine.