Retired Salem Police Chief Profits From Gun Sales After Sandy Hook

Sept. 2 — CONCORD — A now-retired Salem police chief who ran a business selling guns online was able to boost his profits by selling rifles at inflated prices in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, according to reports which were revealed to a federal judge Series.

Fears of an assault weapons ban doubled gun prices and retired Capt. Michael J. Wagner made $33,000 from the sales, according to an order issued Wednesday by a judge in U.S. District Court in Concord.

The order is the latest in a tax evasion case the IRS has brought against Wagner, who went on leave in February 2019 and retired in August 2020. It is the only surviving case of a years-long investigation by authorities into wrongdoing at the Salem Police Department. Department.

According to court records, Wagner used a 25 percent police discount at New Hampshire-based SIG Sauer gun carrier to buy firearms and sell them online without a federal firearms license. Wagner purchased 36 rifles — no indication of what type of rifles — between Dec. 23, 2012, and Jan. 22, 2013, according to the order.

Twenty schoolchildren and six adults died in the Sandy Hook shooting that took place on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. The perpetrator, Adam Lanza, was born in New Hampshire and moved to Newtown at age 6. He killed himself on stage.

In an email, defense attorney Mark Lytle of Manchester said Wagner has never violated any firearms laws and has never been charged with one.

“The IRS has alleged a single count of violating tax law, which it will vigorously defend at trial and believes it will be vindicated by a jury of its peers,” Lytle said.

An investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that Wagner sold several firearms over the Internet at gunbroker.com during “a brief period of high demand,” according to a ruling issued by District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro .

“(ATF Agent John) Cook testified that Wagner sold the firearms shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting, when prices for assault rifles doubled based on speculation that an assault weapons ban was imminent,” the order’s footnote states .

The New Hampshire Attorney General, the FBI and the ATF investigated Wagner for possible wrongdoing. Topics include:

The firearms sales could have been a violation of New Hampshire’s official oppression law, which prohibits the abuse of public office for personal gain.

Wagner did not have a federal firearms license, but he used a close friend, who owns a gun shop in New Hampshire, to sell several rifles online.

At one point Wagner ordered a Salem police officer to “raise a rifle” at his SIG Sauer, raising concerns that he was using a straw buyer to purchase a firearm.

By April 2019, investigators determined that the gun sales were outside the five-year statute of limitations. That’s when the IRS was brought in to look into possible tax crimes, which have a longer statute of limitations. A federal grand jury indicted Wagner for tax evasion in 2020.

According to the judge’s order, Wagner’s gun sales were no secret to the police department and did not sit well with some Salem police officers. Three officers told City Manager Christopher Dillon about their concerns, and Sgt. Chad Clark complained about them at a union meeting.

In February 2018, Dillon launched the Kroll audit, which looked into several issues in the department, including insubordination at city hall, discouraging citizen complaints, intimidation of citizens, and racist and sexist social media posts.

Kroll’s audit formed the basis of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s investigation into Salem police, but it did not report gun sales.

But he did mention two other issues involving Wagner. One is the purchase and resale of a Salem police cruiser, which he declined to discuss with a Kroll auditor. The other is Wagner’s removal of internal affairs files from Salem police offices once the Kroll report landed in an Attorney General’s office.

No charges are expected in these matters. Last year, the state Attorney General’s Office announced that its investigation into Salem police was over.

The years-long effort resulted in one successful prosecution — a speeding violation against Sgt. Michael Verrocchi. Officials said they did not have enough evidence to file charges against the two highest-profile targets in their investigation – former police Chief Paul Donovan and Deputy Chief Robert Morin.

Barbadoro’s order involved an attempt to dismiss the tax charge.

Wagner’s lawyers argued that statements Wagner made to Kroll’s investigators could be used against him at trial. And the attorney said the case should also be dismissed because authorities would not have known of any wrongdoing if not for the statements Wagner made during the investigation into Kroll.

Barbadoro rejected their arguments. Wagner’s statements to Kroll cannot be used at trial, the judge said. But they were of little value when it came to research.

“This is a tax fraud case where, once the government obtained the SIG Sauer records through independent means, the rest of the evidence came from following a paper trail,” he wrote.

The case is expected to be heard in mid-October.

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