An investigation into items shipped from China to Massachusetts has led to the discovery of several ghost guns, according to court records detailing several investigations.
Ghost gun is a term used to describe untraceable, privately made firearms that lack the traditional serial numbers found on firearms.
Federal and state authorities were tracking illegal gun parts being shipped to the United States from China when they began to notice other items coming overseas as well.
Massachusetts State Police detectives, agents from the U.S. Department and Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Postal Service and Customs and Border Protection discovered in the fall of 2019 items that could be converted into silencers for guns were coming in from China.
Silencers are still illegal in some states including Massachusetts, where manufacturers and police are only allowed to possess them.
As authorities began tracking the parts used to make the silencers, they began to find people with ghost guns.
The details surrounding many of the discoveries are listed in a lengthy search warrant filed in Worcester District Court in connection with the investigation of a Worcester man who authorities say was receiving shipments of gun parts to make an AR-15 style rifle along with items that can be made into silencers.
The ghost guns discovered by authorities can be made from legally purchased kits and then assembled with household items.
“The legal purchase of these kits, whether through online retailers or at brick and mortar gun shops, can lead to the illegal possession of an untraceable firearm once the firearm manufacture process is complete,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said in a news release just last month.
The kits to make these guns do not require someone to have an LTC or FID card or a background check, making it easier for people to skirt gun laws.
Just a few days ago, Syracuse, New York and a handful of other city mayors in the U.S. filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives seeking to curb the emerging issue of ghost guns, Syracuse.com reported.
The lawsuit says the ATF allows online retailers to sell guns parts that are nearly complete, many times about 80%, along with instructions on how to finish the firearm to make it fully-functioning.
The ATF doesn’t require serial numbers for the kits currently, Syracuse.com reported. The lawsuit says the ATF has failed to regulate the creation of ghost guns.
In the search warrant filed by Massachusetts State Police Trooper Steven Grasso, who is assigned to Healey’s office, the trooper states the federal and local investigators noticed packages containing solvent traps, which are attached to the barrel of a gun and used to catch cleaning fluids, and fuel filters, used for vehicles, were being shipped to the U.S. from China.
Some of those shipments came to Massachusetts. Both items are legal to possess but can be transformed into silencers. YouTube videos and instructional manuals on how to convert the items can be found online in a matter of keystrokes.
As the investigation unfolded, authorities launched an initiative into the items used to make silencers and seized 6,269 silencers from Oct. 1, 2019 to Jan. 16, 2020 in the U.S. with most of the items used to make the silencers coming from China.
Troopers assigned to an HSI task force and HSI investigators tracked a shipment of fuel filters from China to Swansea in December. Investigators obtained a search warrant and seized weapons and silencers.
Grasso then highlighted an investigation that led to the arrest of 47-year-old Tuan Nguyen, of Milton, in December 2019.
Investigators executed a search warrant at his home and recovered seven loaded firearms, including two un-serialized AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles considered ghost guns and five semi-automatic pistols, as well as four firearm silencers, 26 large-capacity firearm feeding devices, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a ballistic vest carrier and a cache of gun parts and accessories from the defendant’s residence and vehicle, according to Healey’s office.
Authorities also searched his cell phone and recovered several photographs of Nguyen posing with firearms and rifles. Nguyen was indicted by a Norfolk grand jury in July and was arraigned last month in Norfolk Superior Court.
He is facing multiple firearms charges including possession of a firearm without an FID card and possession of a silencer.
The investigation into Nguyen was one of several cases highlighted in the search warrant affidavit.
In October, investigators searched a home in East Bridgewater after CBP agents intercepted a package from China containing fuel filters. Investigators discovered firearms including an AR-15-style “ghost gun” along with silencers and a guide to assemble an AR-15 rifle, according to Grasso’s affidavit filed in court.
Grasso listed a July 2019 investigation in Wrentham that led to the discovery of five AR-15 style rifles that officials deemed to be ghost guns.
Authorities said 38-year-old Michael Roby, who has never had a license to carry a firearm of an FID card, was assembling firearms, had high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and homemade explosive devices. He was arrested after the discoveries were made, authorities said.
A Glock handgun was also found. None of the firearms had serial numbers, authorities said.
Investigators said they also found silencers and two Glock selector switches that are considered bump stocks, an item that allows weapons to convert to an automatic firing mode and are illegal.
“When the U.S. Mail is used to transport dangerous and illegal items, it is taken very seriously,” Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the US Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division said at the time of the arrest. “The cooperation and hard work of our fellow law enforcement agencies illustrates the common mission of protecting our community and keeping the American public safe. The US Postal Inspection Service will continue to investigate and bring criminals to justice to ensure the public’s trust in the U.S. Mail.”
Healey’s office also highlighted the arrest of 56-year-old Victor Pagliuca, of Winthrop, who was arrested in January 2020 in connection with an investigation, initiated by CBP and HSI.
The case, also mentioned in Grasso’s affidavit, stemmed from the shipments of illegal firearm silencers.
“During the execution of a search warrant at Pagliuca’s Shirley Street residence, law enforcement officers from the Massachusetts State Police and Winthrop Police Department recovered two semi-automatic ‘ghost guns’, nearly 3,000 rounds of ammunition, eight large-capacity firearm feeding devices, a cache of gun parts and accessories, an instructional DVD on how to build an untraceable AR-15 assault rifle at home and a 3D mold for building ‘ghost guns’,” Healey’s office said.
Pagliuca was indicted by a Suffolk County grand jury in July and arraigned last month in Suffolk Superior Court on firearms charges.
The subject of the Worcester case, listed in the search warrant affidavit, was Thomas Gallagher, a 29-year-old man living at 87 Perry Ave., Apt. 3 in Worcester.
Investigators searched his apartment on Aug. 5 and seized two AR-15 style rifles, ammunition, cash, bulletproof vests, Percocet, laser sights, a 3D gun printer and parts to make guns, records show.
Authorities from the CBP seized a package from China heading to Gallagher that contained items that could be made into silencers, records said. The shipment was discovered in October.
Grasso said in his affidavit that investigators also discovered Gallagher had parts to make an AR-15 style rifle shipped to his home along with parts to make a Glock.
This wasn’t the first time law enforcement caught Gallagher with guns, records show.
Grasso noted an Aug. 4, 2019, Warren Police Department report when officers were called to the Quaboag Sportsmen’s Club for observations made by an off-duty Massachusetts State Police trooper.
The trooper was shooting at the club and smelled marijuana coming from two other men shooting next to him. Gallagher was one of the two men.
Gallagher had a Glock-style gun that did not have a serial number. The other man had an AK-47 rifle that had been reported stolen out of Barre. A gun part found on the AK-47 had been purchased by Gallagher, authorities said.
“It is important to note that Gallagher has never registered a handgun in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Grasso wrote.
The Glock, Grasso wrote, is a “ghost gun”.
Gallagher applied for an FID card/LTC on June 18, 2019, with Worcester police. He was charged in the Warren case just a couple of months later in August. Authorities said Gallagher had not yet received the FID/LTC. The FID/LTC was activated in September 2019 by Worcester police but it was then suspended on Sept. 20, 2019, and revoked on Jan. 3, 2020. His FID card/LTC is currently listed as revoked.
In the Warren case, Gallagher was charged with possession of a large-capacity firearm, possession of a loaded firearm without a license to carry and possession of ammunition without a license, police said.
Investigators also subpoenaed records from The Gun Parlor in Worcester in July. Authorities wanted records of purchases made by Gallagher.
The Gun Parlor responded within days and said Gallagher made one purchase on March 20. The Gun Parlor recorded the LTC/FID information for Gallagher at the time of the purchase, but investigators pointed out that Gallagher’s LTC/FID had already been revoked.
Gallagher bought 20 rounds of ammunition for an AR-15 style rifle and 25 rounds of 9mm ammunition along with a Magpul magazine coupler. The magazine coupler attaches two AR-15 style magazines side by side.
Records show investigators conducted surveillance on Gallagher off and on for months and, on July 17, 2020, Massachusetts State Police used a pole camera affixed to a utility pole to conduct surveillance on Gallagher’s Perry Avenue apartment.
Gallagher was arraigned last month in Worcester District Court and had bail set at $100,000. He faces firearms charges, ammunition possession charges and drug charges.
Records filed in the case said Gallagher was known to post several messages and photos about gun owner rights on social media. The affidavit from Grasso stated that Gallagher “frequently makes Facebook posts related to firearms and more specifically, the use of firearms against government overreach or perceived threats within his residence.
The trooper included six pages of screenshots of the Facebook posts.
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