CORALVILLE – Thieves broke through a rooftop window in the early morning of Dec. 8, 2008, and stole 17 semi-automatic handguns, valued at $11,400, from the Scheels store at Coral Ridge Mall.
The most expensive gun, a .45-caliber Kimber Warrior worth more than $1,000, was used to rob a Nashville bank in 2009.
At least six more guns were recovered in Chicago. One was dumped in a garbage can as a man fled from police. Another ditched in a flower pot. A third was used to rob three men of their cash, cell phones and clothes, police reports show.
The theft and recovery of the Scheels guns provides a look at how stolen guns move throughout the country and how police attempt to get them back to their rightful owners.
“It’s interesting how so many were recovered in Chicago,” Coralville Lt. Shane Kron said.
Charles Curry of North Liberty and Mohamed Elkamil of Coralville were charged with stealing the guns from Scheels after police found one of the firearms, a Kimber SIS Custom, .45-caliber pistol, in Curry’s car during a Feb. 16, 2009, traffic stop.
These charges were dismissed when the men were indicted in federal court for robbing an Iowa City bank July 20, 2009. Both were sentenced to 10 years in federal prison.
Court records don’t indicate whether investigators probed how the Scheels guns got to Chicago and Nashville.
Joel Barrows, an Iowa district court judge who prosecuted the Curry case when he worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Southern Iowa district, said gun trafficking wasn’t part of the federal case.
When law enforcement agencies seize firearms, they usually check the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database to see if the guns were reported stolen.
A recovering agency communicates with the police department that received the stolen gun report because the gun may be evidence for both departments.
“Anytime a weapon is stolen and put out into the community, it’s a danger for all of us,” said Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner.
Linn County is working with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the Jan. 30 theft of about 70 rifles and shotguns from a Palo man.
Investigators found one of the stolen guns in a March 8 search of another Palo house and charged five people with a host of charges, including possession of a firearm as a felon.
Linn County investigators are trying to find the rest of the guns, since stolen weapons often lead to other crimes, Gardner said.
“Rarely does a person steal the amount of guns we’re talking about to put them in a collection,” he said.
The Scheels guns started showing up in Chicago in May 2009.
Two men arrested separately on Chicago’s south side were found with Desert Eagle revolvers, according to police reports. An NCIC check showed one came from an Indianapolis burglary. The other was stolen from Scheels.
One suspect told police he purchased the stolen gun in the parking lot of a Dolton, Ill., night club. Though the gun sold in the stores for $600, the suspect told police he paid between $700 and $800 for the gun. He told police he bought the gun for protection when he went to visit his mother in a Chicago public housing project, police reports state.
Another Scheels gun was used during a robbery on May 15, 2009, in which two men mugged three others for their wallets, phones, shoes, clothes and car keys, police reports state. The man holding the gun ran from police, but his pants got caught in the top of a fence.
The Browning 9-milimeter pistol, valued at $560, was recovered with 13 live cartridges.
So far, 12 of the 17 guns stolen from Scheels have found their way back to Coralville, Kron said. It’s common practice for agencies that recover stolen guns to return them to victims once the weapons are no longer needed as evidence. Scheels was able to sell all the guns used, he said.
The whereabouts of the other five guns are unknown.