The gun that alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev used to kill a campus police officer three days after the bombings was purchased at the Cabela’s sporting goods store in Scarborough.
A story published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times says the Ruger P95 9 mm semiautomatic handgun was bought at the store by a Maine man and passed through the hands of at least one other man, in Portland, before Tsarnaev got it.
The story also says that federal authorities have been investigating three violent drug gangs in Portland, but local law enforcement officials said that characterization exaggerates the level of gang activity here.
The Los Angeles Times cites a U.S. Department of Justice document that has not been made public, saying the gun that Tsarnaev used to kill the police officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was first purchased from Cabela’s.
The gun was bought in November 2011 as part of a “multiple handgun sale” to a man named Danny Sun Jr. Maine, like most states, does not limit the number of guns that a person can buy within any period of time.
Cabela’s corporate spokesman Joe Arterburn told the Portland Press Herald that he didn’t know how many guns Sun bought in that sale but the company is “cooperating with law enforcement on that.”
It’s not clear how Tsarnaev got the gun or whether he was associated with anyone in Portland.
Richard Serrano, the Los Angeles Times reporter who wrote the story, would not share the Department of Justice document with the Press Herald on Tuesday.
Police believe Tsarnaev used the gun to kill Sean Collier, the MIT police officer, on the night of April 18, 2013, during the manhunt for Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
Hours later, police recovered the gun after Tamerlan Tsarnaev threw it at police during a gunfight in Watertown, Massachusetts, shortly before he was killed. Tsarnaev was shot multiple times in the gunfight, then run over by a car driven by his brother, who was wounded by police and eventually surrendered.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is now awaiting trial on 30 federal charges, including conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. He will face the death penalty if convicted. The bombings near the finish line at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured more than 260.
GAPS IN GUN’S PATH IN PORTLAND
The Los Angeles Times story, citing the Department of Justice document, said Sun’s purchase of the gun at Cabela’s was revealed after the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives requested a trace of Tsarnaev’s gun.
Sun was arrested in May 2013 on an outstanding warrant in Cumberland County for a traffic violation. When detectives asked him what had happened to the Ruger, Sun said he had given it to Biniam Tsegai, who goes by the nickname Icy and is under investigation by the FBI for drug trafficking in Portland.
Tsegai faces federal charges of trafficking crack cocaine, along with two co-defendants, Hamadi Hassan, also known as BK, and Lacey Armstrong, who goes by Lexy.
Don Clark, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland, said little Tuesday about the drug case against Tsegai. “Right now, an indictment is merely an accusation,” he said.
Tsegai, who has a long criminal history, mainly involving minor crimes, has refused to tell authorities anything about the gun. Tsegai would not be interviewed when a Press Herald reporter contacted him through jail officials Tuesday.
It’s not clear how the gun wound up with Tsarnaev – whether he received it directly from Tsegai or whether it first passed through many hands.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Tsegai was involved in gang activity and that federal officials were investigating gangs in Maine, saying, “Portland is home to a trio of violent gangs called the True Somali Bloods, the Little Rascals Gang and a newly formed faction of the Crips Nation, according to the FBI.”
But Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference Tuesday that many drug dealers claim ties to gangs, even if those ties are weak. He said his department is aware of a Massachusetts-to-Maine pipeline of drugs and guns, but gang activity in Maine is not as violent or prevalent as the story claims. If gangs were that prevalent in Portland, he said, the city would have had an abundance of violent crimes, including deaths.
Sauschuck would not comment on any connection between Portland and the Boston Marathon bombings, or on a probe that the Los Angeles Times said federal authorities are conducting against gangs in Portland called “Run This Town.” He said the investigation is not being led by his department.
NO KNOWN TSARNAEV LINK TO MAINE
According to the Los Angeles Times, law enforcement set up a joint Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in June 2011 to investigate the three Portland gangs and identified nearly 30 people as potential suspects. Four days after the investigation started, a judge granted the task force authority to tap telephones, cellphones and other mobile communication devices.
There is no indication that Tsarnaev’s name or communications between him and anyone in Maine came up during the investigation.
Tsarnaev has not been publicly linked to any drug-gun transactions between Maine and Massachusetts. Police do believe that he was involved in a drug-related triple homicide at an apartment in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Sept. 11, 2011, in which the throats of three men were slit.
Thousands of dollars’ worth of marijuana and cash were sprinkled over the mutilated bodies. Those killings remain unsolved.
Tsarnaev’s only apparent connection to Maine was through boxing. Two people with longtime connections to boxing in Portland said they encountered Tsarnaev, who was an amateur boxer, at competitions, but never in Maine.
“All the boxers are somewhat connected in this sport,” said Bob Russo, who owns the Portland Boxing Club. “I didn’t see him or know of him being connected to anyone here (in Maine).”
TSARNAEV BOXING CAREER CUT SHORT
Russo met Tsarnaev in 2009 during the New England Golden Gloves championships in Massachusetts. Tsarnaev beat Russo’s fighter, Lee Lamour, to win the heavyweight title and move on to the national championship.
Russo said his interaction with Tsarnaev was limited.
“He was quiet. It may have had something to do with the language barrier,” said Russo, who described Tsarnaev as a tenacious and strong boxer who had some flaws he would have had to work out to be more competitive.
Liz Leddy, a boxer from Portland, met Tsarnaev at the Lowell Sun Charities Golden Gloves in Massachusetts in 2010. She said he arrived with an entourage and she considered him “a little theatrical.”
“I could smell the ego on him,” she said. “I swear he won on ego alone.”
In 2010, after Tsarnaev won his second consecutive New England Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, a rule change disqualified all non-U.S. citizens from competing in Golden Gloves boxing, effectively ending Tsarnaev’s boxing career.
“If he had stayed with boxing, I feel like it might have worked out in a different way,” Leddy said.
Tsarnaev’s name has not come up in any federal court documents related to drug cases in Maine, but the Los Angeles Times report says: “Authorities believe Tsarnaev’s ties to the illicit drug trade in Maine helped finance his six-month trip to the southern Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in early 2012, where he became radicalized. Drug money, they say, also may have helped him buy components of the bomb that killed three people and injured more than 260 on April 15, 2013.”
MAINE GUNS SOLD IN DRUG TRADE?
Portland isn’t the only Maine city where drugs, guns and gang activity have been linked.
In December, Augusta police and Maine Drug Enforcement Agency officers arrested 10 people on charges of selling heroin and methamphetamine out of a home. Seven of the 10 were from outside Maine, and several were affiliated with a violent, Chicago-based street gang known as the Almighty Black P. Stones, officials said at the time.
Augusta Police Chief Robert Gregoire said Tuesday that police did not find any guns in that case. But Gregoire, who has worked in the Augusta Police Department for more than 25 years, said there appears to be a growing link between guns and illegal narcotics.
“From what we are seeing, there is definitely a connection between drugs and guns,” he said. “Basically, stolen firearms are being traded for drugs.”
Gregoire said his department has seen an increase in gun thefts – especially handguns – during home burglaries. In some cases, people looking to buy drugs are exchanging stolen guns, instead of cash, for the drugs.
He said it is still unclear whether gangs are trafficking in Maine guns as part of the drug trade, but there appears to be “a channel” for secreting stolen guns out of state.
“There has to be some sort of organization” to sell the guns out of state, Gregoire said. “I can’t say specifically that it is gangs, but someone knows somebody.”
The pipeline of drugs for guns between Maine and Massachusetts is not new, but has become an increasing problem for law enforcement.
Drugs are brought from Boston, Lowell and Worcester to Maine, where demand is high and dealers can make more money.
Guns go south from Maine, where they can be purchased with relative ease and limited scrutiny, to Massachusetts, where they often end up being used in crimes.
There were 429 firearms reported stolen in Maine in 2012, according to a report released in June 2013 by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The report was the first such compilation of gun thefts and losses nationwide, so figures from earlier years are not available for comparison.
The phenomenon of “straw buyers” also is common in drug trafficking. High-level dealers who want to keep a low profile or who have criminal convictions that prohibit them from buying guns often send girlfriends or other associates without criminal records to buy guns for them.
Staff writers Leslie Bridgers, Scott Dolan, Gillian Graham, David Hench and Kevin Miller contributed to this report.
Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: