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170 seized and recovered guns traced to Missouri pawn shop

More than 170 firearms seized or recovered by police during an eight-month period last year were purchased from a single St. Louis-area pawn shop, federal authorities said in announcing charges against three men connected to the shop.

Carlos Jones, 31; Robert Thornton, 36; and Steven Johnson, 44, were charged last week with unlawful transfer of firearm to a convicted felon and making false statements on firearm records. All three men worked at Piazza Jewelry and Pawn in Overland, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb.

The federal complaint said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced 170 seized and recovered guns to sales at the pawn shop, with 102 of those guns recovered in the city of St. Louis. ATF Special Agent Chad Foreman wrote in an affidavit that six of the confiscated guns were used in homicides, four in robberies, 20 in weapons offenses, and were found in 36 cases in which a prohibited person was in possession of a firearm.

ATF agents conducted an undercover investigation in October through December that revealed guns were often sold to “straw” purchasers who then provided the firearms to others, the criminal complaint alleged.

A search warrant was executed in December, when officers seized more than 900 firearms.

St. Louis Police Chief John Hayden said in a statement that the investigation revealed that Piazza “routinely and illegally put guns in the hands of people, who committed numerous, violent gun crimes across our City. Our City is now safer, because of the collaborative effort between the St. Louis Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.”

Jones lives in St. Louis; Thornton in Florissant, Missouri; and Johnson in Belleville, Illinois. It wasn’t immediately clear if the men had attorneys.

Anna M. Alvarado, general counsel for First Cash Inc., the company that owns Piazza Jewelry and Pawn, declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

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