SANFORD — The federal government is trying to revoke the license of a gun store owner who refused to allow a federal agent to copy gun records during a compliance inspection last year.
Phil Chabot, who owns Pac N Arms on Emery Street in Sanford, was issued a notice of revocation in February by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The bureau got a warrant to search Chabot’s store in February, and court records indicate he is suspected of making “straw sales” – sales through an intermediary – to a convicted felon who was barred from buying or possessing guns.
Chabot has not been charged, and his lawyer said Tuesday that they had not seen any evidence against him.
Chabot, who has been licensed to sell firearms since 1991, has accused the ATF of overstepping its authority and has run advertisements in local media, including the Portland Press Herald, asking any customer who is contacted by the bureau to call his lawyer.
In a letter to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Chabot said an ATF senior investigator’s review of his records “appeared to be little more than a thinly veiled attempt to create a registry of my clientele.” His case also has been cited by bloggers who say the ATF is “terrorizing” gun dealers and trying to build a database of gun owners.
Penny Dean, the Concord, N.H.-based attorney who is representing Chabot, said the newspaper ads were necessary because she and Chabot don’t have “good information” about whether the ATF is investigating Chabot.
“They speak with forked tongue and won’t give us any good answers,” Dean said. She said she has already heard from customers, but would not say how many or what information they provided.
Chabot, who was working in his store Tuesday afternoon while a half-dozen customers browsed racks of guns, declined to comment until he had more information about the ATF’s activities connected to the store. The store is located in a nondescript former mill building and has no business sign out front.
Debora Seifert, a spokeswoman for the bureau’s Boston division, said she is not allowed to confirm the existence or status of investigations until they are adjudicated. She said agents would contact gun store customers only in relation to criminal investigations.
DISPUTE OVER COPYING OF RECORDS
Federal firearm license revocations are uncommon. A 10-year review of ATF oversight, completed a year ago by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, found that the agency revoked just 71 federal firearm licenses in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2011, a small fraction of the 123,587 licenses issued at the time to gun dealers, collectors, manufacturers and importers.
Court records show that Chabot’s interaction with the ATF in recent months stems from a compliance check last year and his alleged connection to criminal cases involving people who acquired guns through Pac N Arms.
In August, Wayne Bettencourt, an industry operations investigator for the bureau, began a warrantless compliance inspection at Pac N Arms, but Chabot “constantly hovered over my shoulder so he could see what records I was reviewing,” Bettencourt wrote in an application for a search warrant for Chabot’s records.
Bettencourt said he told Chabot that he was required, as a licensee, to allow the ATF access to his records.
“I informed Chabot that I needed to copy some of the records to document Chabot’s own violations, and to follow up on individuals whose purchase patterns appeared suspicious to me based on my training,” Bettencourt wrote.
Bettencourt said Chabot prevented him from copying or photographing certain records.
“I reminded Chabot that interference with necessary inspection procedures, such as copying certain ATF-required records, could result in revocation of his federal firearms license,” Bettencourt wrote.
Seifert said ATF investigators are allowed to copy only records that are alleged to contain errors or omissions that violate regulations or that are alleged to contain information related to a criminal violation.
Bettencourt said in his application for a search warrant that he believed Chabot’s refusal to allow copying of certain records was an attempt to hide violations.
Dean, however, said her client believes the agent was improperly copying records because he appeared to be scanning a copy of every page. Chabot has not been notified of any alleged violations, she said.
In 2012, a different ATF agent investigated suspected straw purchases at Pac N Arms, according to court records. Those purchases led to the convictions of three people, including a convicted felon who admitted that he had his wife and a friend buy and sell guns for him at Pac N Arms. Anthony Foglio of Waterboro pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and is serving 70 months in prison.
According to court records, Foglio was in the store while others bought and sold guns for him at Pac N Arms. Knowingly selling guns to a convicted felon through a straw sale is a violation, according to the ATF.
Devon Ayotte, Foglio’s friend, was convicted of giving a false statement to acquire a firearm and was sentenced to 16 months in prison. Katelyn Malcolm, Foglio’s wife, was sentenced to three years of probation for giving a false statement on the record of a federally licensed firearm dealer, according to court records.
GUN CONTROL VIOLATIONS SUSPECTED
During that investigation, Foglio cooperated with police by recording a telephone call with Chabot and picking up receipts for gun sales from the store owner, according to court records.
Based on Chabot’s refusal to allow copying of records and his alleged connection to the criminal cases, Bettencourt wrote that he thought there was reasonable cause to believe Chabot had violated provisions of the Gun Control Act, including:
• Making false entries or failing to properly maintain federal firearms records.
• Making false statements or false representations.
• Failing to keep required records.
• Failure to report multiple sales of firearms to the same individuals.
• Transferring firearms to a person who is not allowed to possess them.
• Failing to properly maintain his book of all firearm acquisitions and dispositions.
• Failing to obtain properly completed forms from firearm transferees.
The ATF issued Chabot a notice of revocation of his license around Feb. 18.
Seifert, the bureau’s spokeswoman, said she could not provide details about the notice, but said such notices are issued only after ATF agents work with store owners to correct violations.
“The revocation process occurs when a (federal firearms licensee) or gun store does not comply with federal laws and regulations and has demonstrated they have failed to fix the problems that ATF has educated them on correcting,” she said. “The ATF is obligated to protect public safety, which may require the revocation of a federal firearms license.”
Chabot has requested a hearing on the revocation notice. No date has been set, and Dean said she has yet to be provided with evidence of the allegations against her client.
“If he was really this bad person like ATF says he is, wouldn’t you have a hearing right away to revoke his license?” she said. “He has disputed every one of their allegations. We say, ‘Show us the evidence.’ ”
If the bureau continues with the revocation after a hearing, the licensee is issued a final notice of revocation, which can be appealed in U.S. District Court.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: [email protected]