Two Maine men are named in a newspaper report as the sources of a gun purchased in Maine and used by Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev to kill a campus police officer three days after the bombings in April 2013.
Federal authorities first connected Danny Sun Jr. of Gorham and Biniam Tsegai of Portland to the Ruger P95 9 mm semiautomatic handgun more than a year ago. The information was first revealed in a story published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times, which cited an unreleased Department of Justice document.
Sun, 26, bought the Ruger, along with other guns, at Cabela’s outdoor supply store in Scarborough on Nov. 27, 2011.
Sun told police under questioning at the Cumberland County Jail last year that he gave the gun to Tsegai, an immigrant from the African country of Eritrea who has an extensive criminal history in Maine. It remains unclear how the gun then ended up in Tsarnaev’s possession.
Tsegai, 27, also known as Icy, is scheduled to be brought to U.S. District Court in Portland on Thursday to plead guilty to a crack cocaine trafficking conspiracy charge.
Tsegai’s attorney, Thomas Dyhrberg, said Tuesday that he was unaware of any connection between his client and Tsarnaev, and declined to comment further.
Through officials at the county jail, Tsegai refused the Portland Press Herald’s request for an interview Tuesday.
Sun did not respond to phone messages Tuesday and no one answered the door at his home, at 74 Spiller Road in Gorham.
At a rental home on Broadway in South Portland where Sun lived previously, a man who answered the door said Sun left that home about a year ago. The resident, who declined to be identified, said that shortly after he started renting the home in 2013, police showed up at his door at 5 a.m., asking for the whereabouts of an acquaintance of Sun. The resident said he told police he didn’t know the person.
Records at the Cumberland County Courthouse indicate that Sun was charged by South Portland police last month with leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident that caused property damage. A state database indicates he has no criminal record in Maine.
Tsegai was targeted in a drug investigation by the FBI from November 2010 to February 2012, and is accused in court documents of being the leader of a drug trafficking ring in Portland. Federal authorities received authorization for two wiretaps on cellphones used by the drug ring, according to documents filed in federal court in Portland this year by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Conley.
“These wire intercepts, combined with testimony of several cooperating witnesses, would establish that during the dates of the charged conspiracy, Biniam Tsegai (1) received orders for user-level quantities of crack cocaine from Hamadi Hassan’s customers; (2) delivered crack cocaine to Hamadi Hassan’s customers after they had placed orders with Hamadi Hassan; and (3) packaged and prepared crack cocaine for sale and distribution after it had been brought to Maine from Boston,” Conley wrote, naming Tsegai and a man with whom Tsegai is alleged to have worked with in selling drugs.
Cmdr. Scott Pelletier, head of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency in the southern part of the state, said he is familiar with Tsegai, who was part of a group of young men in Portland who were often involved in drug activity.
“He’s a bad guy, no doubt about it,” Pelletier said. “We’ve dealt with him for years.”
Before the crack cocaine case, Tsegai’s criminal record included mainly misdemeanor convictions, such as disorderly conduct, according to a state database and federal court records.
He was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and failure to submit in connection with a six-hour police standoff in July 2011 at the Riverton Apartments, a public housing project off Forest Avenue in Portland, after police got a report of a woman who was injured by suspects who police believed had guns.
The Los Angeles Times says authorities believe Tsarnaev’s ties to Maine’s drug trade helped him finance a six-month trip to the Russian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan in 2012 that inspired the Boston Marathon bombings, but Maine court records and attorneys for those charged in the case against Tsegai indicate the drug ring that Tsegai is accused of operating had no known connection to Tsarnaev.
The cases against two other people charged with conspiracy in the cocaine ring, Hamadi Hassan and Lacey Armstrong, are still pending. Each defendant’s attorney said that Tsarnaev’s name does not appear in the evidence against their clients.
“There is absolutely no connection between Tsarnaev and Miss Armstrong,” said Armstrong’s attorney, Sarah Churchill.
Hassan’s attorney, Luke Rioux, said his client has no known ties to Tsarnaev and the gun isn’t mentioned in prosecutors’ case against Hassan.
“It certainly wasn’t on my radar or anyone else’s, as far as I know,” Rioux said of Tsegai’s connection to the gun. “The case here in Portland is strictly a crack cocaine trafficking case.”
Staff Writer Joe Lawlor contributed to this report.