Thursday, December 18, 2003

Gun-seller denies complicity in deal

The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - The owner of a Xenia gun store accused of selling guns that ended up in the hands of a New Jersey street gang is innocent, his attorney said Wednesday.

According to prosecutors, students or former students at Wilberforce University acted as phony buyers to purchase about 200 handguns from James Dillard's Hole in the Wall store. Dillard is charged with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and making unlawful gun sales.

Dillard, 61, was scheduled to appear Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Sharon Ovington, but attorney Robert Coughlin said his client has heart problems and is in a hospital. Ovington reset the hearing for Jan. 14.

"He denies the charges," Coughlin said outside the courtroom.

Dillard made two sales of 16 guns and 15 guns on April 22, 2002, to two different "straw buyers," according to an indictment. He sold 25 guns to one of the same purchasers five days earlier, the indictment said.

The buyers filled out federal gun background checks and falsely claimed they were the actual purchasers, authorities said.

The students were paid unspecified amounts of money.

Authorities said 76 of the guns purchased in Ohio were funneled to a street gang in East Orange, N.J., known as the Double II Bloods. Fifteen of the guns have been recovered, all of them used in various crimes.

Prosecutors said Dillard apparently did not know the weapons were bound for the New Jersey gang. But he was aware, they said, that the students were simply acting as intermediaries to fill out the required paperwork.

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