Federal agents said a New Orleans-area gun store served as a pipeline for guns that ended up in the hands of murderers and drug dealers.
Wednesday, authorities arrested the operator of Elliot's Gun Shop, Hermann Eicke, 65.
Eicke and his associate, Timothy Harris, 54, face charges of aggravated identity theft. Harris' girlfriend, Rebecca Zitzmann, 42, also an employee of Elliot's, was charged with falsifying federal firearms records.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives executed a federal search warrant on the shop, which netted hundreds of firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and business records.
An affidavit filed Tuesday by ATF special agent Miguel Valle alleged that firearms purchased at Elliot's ended up in the hands of convicted felons and were used in numerous violent crimes, stating that in the five-year span between March 2002 and March 2007, law enforcement identified more than 2,300 weapons involved in crimes as products sold by the store.
Of those, the affidavit also alleged that at least 127 guns were connected to homicide investigations and 517 were traced back to drug investigations. The majority of those firearms turned up in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
David Harper, the special agent in charge of ATF's New Orleans field division, said in a statement that the suspects "were fueling the violent crime problem in the New Orleans area.
"They have shown a reckless disregard for the federal laws and responsibilities associated with the privilege of possessing a federal firearms license," Harper continued.
"I am confident that we have eliminated a significant supplier of guns to the criminal element."
Authorities said that during their investigation, a confidential informant and an undercover federal agent were able to buy a firearm from the store with Zitzmann's help, saying she sold a weapon to the informant but let the undercover agent fill out the paperwork, so it appeared as if he was the one who'd legally bought the gun.
Valle's affidavit noted that "a common method for prohibited persons, such as felons and illegal aliens, to obtain firearms is to use a surrogate buyer to make a straw purchase."
ATF also alleged that Eicke and Harris forged law enforcement officers' signatures in order to buy inventory from a distributor in New York at a discount available to officers, in an effort to bolster profits upon resale. After discovering the alleged forgeries, ATF brought the Secret Service into the investigation.
Authorities said this was not the first run-in Eicke and Harris have had with federal authorities.
ATF revoked Harris' firearms license in February 2005 after numerous regulatory infractions surrounding the store's gun sales, when he operated the store under the name Elliot's Small Arms. Eicke, who worked at that store, apparently flipped control of the business by applying for his own license under the name Elliot's Gun Shop. ATF reported that an undercover investigation it conducted showed Harris was still in control of the business, even though it was no longer in his name.
Austin Banks, an ATF senior special agent in the New Orleans field division, told ABC News the three suspects remained in federal custody and would appear in court Thursday for a detention hearing.
ATF noted the federal government has deployed extra special agents and assistant U.S. attorneys to the New Orleans area in an effort to help the city deal with violent crime issues that have cropped up since Hurricane Katrina.