Task force targets gun buyers

January 22, 2008 4:24:39 PM PST
Arrests in the murders of two armored car guards aren't stopping with the man accused of pulling the trigger. New arrests announced Tuesday focus on how the suspect got the gun in the first place... an apparent straw purchase. Special agents with the year-old Gun Violence Task Force traced the gun's history. It's just one case that the state's top prosecutor touted as a success.

Surveillance photos were taken of Mustafa Ali last October 4th allegedly using a 9mm handgun to kill 2 armored car guards at a bank ATM in Northeast Philadelphia. Ali has reportedly confessed to the crime.

A special police task force has traced the gun used in the murders back to a pair of workers at a car rental agency at Philadelphia International Airport. Investigators say 26-year-old Jason Lighty purchased the gun legally back in 2003, but illegally sold it to coworker Eric Benson. Both have been arrested and charged with firearms violations. Just how it got to Ali is still being probed.

The D.A. says it fits the pattern of gun crimes that the state funded task force is cracking down on.

Pa. Attorney General Tom Corbett said Tuesday, "The straw purchasers are mainly people who have never been in trouble. Who have a friend, a boyfriend, a girlfriend, and acquaintance ? that they're buying the gun for and giving it to them knowing that they're not supposed to give it to them."

This same task force has traced a .357 magnum used to wound an employee at the Wizard's strip joint near the University of Pennsylvania campus in late November. The gunman and convicted felon, Larry Sanders, was shot and killed by campus police moments later.

Samuel Walker of Germantown has been arrested and charged with selling Sanders the gun.

"In my opinion anybody who is a straw purchaser deserves to see state prison for a period of time," said Corbett.

The attorney general says the state is funding the task force to the tune of $5-million a year to focus strictly on the straw purchasers. There have been 112 arrests so far, with the possibility now that the straw purchaser can be charged in connection with the violent crime where that gun is used.

State Senator Vincent Fumo says, "The message will go out to other straw purchasers that this is no longer a casual act that can happen. This is now serious, serious business."