The path was a long one, but federal prosecutors secured guilty pleas this week for three individuals who had illegally sold firearms to criminals at a notorious New Orleans gun shop.
Investigators have had their eye on Elliot's Gun Shop for years, but it was able to skirt efforts to close it until May, when the feds seized 2,300 weapons and shut down the small warehouse along Jefferson Highway for good. The store was an example of how the legal landscape limits investigators' ability to shut down gun stores selling firearms illegally.
After repeated record-keeping problems at Elliot's, officials forced owner Timothy Harris to close his shop in 2004. But he was able to get around rules barring him from running a gun shop by paying a friend, Hermann Eicke, $1,000 a week to reopen the store in his name, according to the plea agreement. Harris's girlfriend, Rebecca Zitzmann, also aided in the conspiracy, changing documents to hide sales to convicts.
With the help of an inside informant and an undercover witness, the feds were able to build a case, catching the three on tape covering up records.
From Elliot's reopening in March 2005 until the feds shut it down in May 2007, the store sold 13,200 firearms, the plea agreement states.
Harris faces up to 27 years behind bars. Eicke and Zitzmann face five years. Both could see hefty fines as well. Sentencing is scheduled for February 20.