A federal judge on Monday sentenced a former federal contract security guard to 14 years in prison for stealing gun parts from a gun disposal facility.
Christopher Lee Yates, 52, of Martinsburg, worked as a security guard at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives National Disposal Branch in Martinsburg when he stole thousands of guns, gun parts, and ammunition and sold it to people throughout the country between 2016 and early 2019, U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said in a news release Monday night.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gina Groh sentenced Yates to spend 168 months in prison and pay a $300,000 fine. Yates in April pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a stolen firearm and one count of theft of government property.
Yates was taken into custody by U.S. Marshals immediately following the hearing.
In the news release, Powell and ATF Special Agent in Charge Ashan Benedict said many of the items Powell stole have not been recovered by federal investigators. He asked people throughout the country to report any information regarding the items to the ATF or their local law enforcement agencies.
“The theft and illegal distribution of firearms presents a clear and present danger to the public,” Powell said. The defendant’s conduct was not only audacious, it was and remains extraordinarily dangerous. The court’s sentence sends a clear and unequivocal message.”
In response to Yates’ arrest, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, sent a letter earlier this year to ATF Deputy Director Thomas Brandon, asking him to provide the committee with information, including how many weapons were stolen, who was involved, if the guns and parts were used in crimes and if they have been recovered, according to a report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Yates’ case led to a multi-state investigation, and ATF officials said in March it was possible more people would be arrested as a result.
To date, ATF has recovered 4,625 pieces of the stolen guns and parts, including 4,000 firearms parts, 3,000 of which of were slides, and at least 15 rifles, 80 handguns, including ATF duty weapons, 10 to 15 AR-style lower receivers, and four machine guns, Powell said in the release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Finucane prosecuted the case on behalf of the government.