PORTLAND — A gun dealer from Bath is under federal investigation in a case in which he allegedly sold firearms to out-of-state residents, failed to check buyers’ backgrounds and violated record-keeping laws.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been investigating the business of Richard Burgess since 2007, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.

Burgess is a federally licensed dealer who has sold at gun shows and over the Internet for the past 21 years. Agents raided his home on Lincoln Street on March 30. They seized business records and 44 firearms that the agents claim were not recorded in his transaction logs, as required by law.

Burgess, a former Bath city councilor and water district trustee, said he feels like he has been singled out by the ATF, and he does not know why.

“I feel like I’m walking the plank here, and I haven’t done anything,” he said Monday in a telephone interview. “This whole thing has been a nightmare.

“I’m 56 years old and I have a clean record. I have nothing to hide,” Burgess said. “I’m scared. They want to make me a convicted felon and possibly put me in jail.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy said Burgess has not been charged with any crimes in the investigation described in last week’s court filing, which seeks a court order for Burgess to forfeit the guns seized during the ATF raid. Murphy had no other comment.

Burgess said officials want him to plead guilty to a felony count of illegal transfer of firearms. He said he has been consulting with a lawyer, but he does not consider himself a felon and he is reluctant to make a plea agreement.

Burgess stopped selling guns when his federal license expired in August. He said he is a self-employed accountant who sold guns as a side business and a hobby.

“If I’m a convicted felon, to me, my life’s over,” Burgess said.

In May 2007, investigators from the ATF Industry Operations unit conducted a comprehensive compliance inspection of Burgess’ business, according to the court documents. The investigators found “hundreds of record-keeping violations” and recommended that his license not be renewed. The ATF began an undercover investigation of Burgess.

“Over the course of the next three years, that investigation led ATF agents to a number of gun shows throughout Maine where undercover operations were conducted involving Burgess and his associates,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Clark wrote in the complaint seeking forfeiture of the guns.

During those operations, Burgess allegedly sold guns to people who he knew were buying them for other people. Buyers who simply pass guns on are known as “straw purchasers.” Burgess also sold to out-of-state residents and failed to complete background checks on some buyers, Clark alleged.

Burgess said his business records were not up to date at the time of the raid in March because he had been undergoing therapy and skin-graft surgeries for health problems related to diabetes. He said he fully intended to document the receipt of the 44 firearms that were seized.

Regarding the allegation that he sold to straw purchasers, he said two undercover ATF agents showed up at his booth to buy firearms. Burgess did not know they were agents. He said one of them showed proof of Maine residency, passed a background check and bought a gun. Burgess said he would not sell a gun to the other man because the man was a resident of another state.

“Because I sold to the guy with him, that is what they are after me for. They are calling that a straw sale,” Burgess said.

“If they wanted me to do something different, at least they should have told me,” he said. “It’s a little depressing when you’ve just tried to do everything right.”

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]