SALT LAKE CITY – A Las Vegas man is charged with nine counts of making a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm in a federal indictment returned by a grand jury in Salt Lake City, along with one count of dealing in firearms without a license and one count of travel within the United States with intent to violate federal law prohibiting dealing in firearms without a license.
The indictment alleges Gregory Alan Nelson, 32, knowingly made false written statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms intended to deceive the firearms dealer. Specifically, the indictment alleges Nelson falsely answered “yes” on an ATF form asking whether he was the actual buyer of the firearm. The counts in the indictment refer to a variety of firearms Hansen purchased from federal firearms licensees (FFLs) in Utah during May, June, July and August.
Charges allege Nelson purchased approximately 283 guns in Utah in 2020. Using a conservative estimate, he spent about $176,000 on the guns, including 147 Glock pistols.
“The time-to-crime evidence in this prosecution is troubling. Allegations portray hundreds of guns purchased in Utah, too many of which were later recovered in criminal investigations outside of Utah in a relatively short period of time,” U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said. “To be sure, these charges are serious as far as the potential consequences if he is found guilty of federal felonies. More serious, though, are the negative effects on public safety as a result of the conduct outlined in the allegations. Gun crime endangers our communities.”
“ATF prioritizes illegal firearms trafficking. Most firearms start out as a legal commodity but in this case multiple firearms purchased by Nelson were transferred illegally, some ending up at crime scenes. In order to help keep the public safe, ATF agents interdicted and stopped the flow of these firearms,” ATF Special Agent in Charge, Denver Field Division, David Booth said.
According to a complaint filed in the case, Nelson came to the attention of ATF agents in Salt Lake City in July after purchasing a large number of similar firearms over a short period of time throughout Utah. The ATF received information from a FFL with numerous locations in Utah that Nelson’s firearms purchases were suspicious in nature given the multiple purchases of firearms he was making and the different, potentially conflicting explanations he offered as he interacted with store employees during the transactions.
Under federal law, FFLs are required to send a report to ATF when there is a sale of multiple firearms to the same purchaser within a short period of time. ATF uses the information to investigate potential firearms trafficking cases. If one or more firearms recovered from a crime are part of a multiple purchase, this could be an indicator of potential firearms trafficking. A gun recovered from a crime shortly after being purchased in a multiple sale is known as a short time-to-crime ratio. It refers to the time between when a firearm is purchased, and when that same firearm is recovered at a crime scene.
The ATF also received a tip that Nelson was purchasing firearms in Utah and trafficking them in Las Vegas.
ATF firearms tracing shows that as of Oct. 9, 2020, 19 firearms, originally purchased by Nelson, have been recovered in California by law enforcement officers investigating various crimes. All 19 of the recovered firearms were recovered within a short time-to-crime ratio of between 2 and 91 days. One of the recovered firearms was used to commit a double murder, according to the complaint. All firearms were recovered in different areas of California and were traced to Nelson as the original purchaser.
Examples from the complaint include:
- On May 28, 2020, Nelson purchased a semi-automatic pistol from Sportsman’s Warehouse in St. George. This gun was recovered on Aug. 27, 2020 (just over 3 months time to crime) by DEA during a narcotics distribution investigation in California.
- On June 5, 2020, Nelson purchased a semi-automatic pistol from Rowdy’s Range and Supply in St. George. This gun was recovered on July 7, 2020 (29 days time to crime) by the Walnut Creek Police Department while executing a search warrant during the course of a murder investigation.
- On June 17, 2020, Nelson purchased a semi-automatic pistol from Gunnies in Orem. This gun was recovered on Aug. 2, 2020 (46 days time to crime) by the East Palo Alto Police Department during the investigation of a double murder in California.
- As of Aug. 28, 2020, the investigation shows Nelson purchased firearms recently from 29 FFLS in Utah and paid for them with cash. Nelson made one purchase in excess of $13,000. He also made purchases around $11,000, and three in excess of $7,000. During the months of July and August, Nelson purchased 171 firearms.
Nelson has no known employment for 2020 and, according to the complaint, does not have the monetary means to purchase the quantity of firearms he has to date – an indication Nelson is buying the pistols at the direction of and through the financing of another individual. Nelson has repeatedly purchased duplicate models of handguns that are not typically considered to be of collector value, including the 147 Glock pistols, which is an indication of straw purchases, investigators say.
Nelson was arrested on the Utah complaint in Las Vegas in August. He was released on conditions of supervised release imposed by a federal magistrate in Las Vegas. He had an initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Cecilia M. Romero on Sept. 21, 2020, in Salt Lake City. He was arraigned on charges in the indictment Thursday.
Each count of making a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm carries a potential sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Count 10, dealing in firearms without a license, has a potential five-year sentence. The final count of the indictment, travel within the United States with intent to violate federal law prohibiting dealing in firearms without a license, has a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Indictments are not finding of guilt. Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys in the Utah U.S. Attorney’s Office are prosecuting the case. Special agents with the ATF are conducting the investigation.