Two men have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to stealing semiautomatic handguns from the Beretta manufacturing plant in Accokeek by smuggling the weapons out in vacuum cleaners.
Federal prosecutors said Jesse James Moore, 40, and Jeremiah Taylor, 27, both of Baltimore, stole five or six handguns while they worked as contract janitors at the Beretta plant in January and February. Beretta USA is headquartered in Accokeek.
During a Sept. 9 sentencing hearing for Moore before U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr., federal prosecutors said Moore and Taylor put the guns inside industrial metal vacuum cleaners and pushed the vacuum cleaners through metal detectors at the plant at the end of their work shifts. When the metal detectors went off, company security officers believed they were being set off by the vacuum cleaners, a Beretta USA spokesman said.
Shortly after the thefts, Moore sold two of the stolen guns to two men from his Baltimore neighborhood, prosecutors said. Those men have pleaded guilty in Baltimore City Circuit Court to illegally obtaining firearms.
Williams sentenced Moore to one year in prison without parole, plus three years' supervised probation after he is released. Williams also issued an order saying that Moore can never again legally possess a firearm.
Moore and Taylor were indicted by a federal grand jury in May after an investigation by Baltimore police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
After Moore's sentencing, Maryland U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia touted the cooperation between police and federal agents in combating illegal gun trafficking.
"A clear message should be sent to criminals that the government is committed to getting guns out of their hands and to keeping our streets safe," Battaglia said.
The thefts were uncovered days after they occurred when police in Baltimore recovered one of the stolen weapons about the same time that Beretta officials learned that guns had been stolen from their manufacturing plant.
Beretta officials worked with investigators to track down the thieves, said Jeff Reh, general counsel for the company.
The company, which spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on private security guards, video cameras and metal detectors, has made some changes in the wake of the thefts, Reh said.
"For one thing, we don't allow metal vacuum cleaners of the kind [Moore and Taylor used] into the plant anymore," Reh said.
"It's unfortunate these criminals were able to figure out how to get these guns out," Reh said. "Such thefts are rare occurrences."
Brian Siebel, senior attorney for the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, said that perhaps as many as 14,000 weapons were stolen from a Lorcin gun manufacturing plant in California in the early 1990s. Those thefts led to legislation last year in which California lawmakers required gun manufacturers to tighten security at their plants, Siebel said.
Moore's codefendant, Taylor, is in custody, prosecutors said. He has pleaded guilty to conspiring with Moore to steal firearms from Beretta and is scheduled to be sentenced by Williams on Nov. 22. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mythili Raman and Barbara Skalla.
Two Baltimore men have pleaded guilty in Baltimore City Circuit Court to buying guns stolen by Moore, prosecutors said.