- Grove City, Pennsylvania

Local News

June 27, 2014

Only one charge stands for ex-Altra manager

MERCER COUNTY — A former Grove City man whose 105 N. Broad St. apartment was raided for stolen weapons in December, is looking at significantly reduced charges during sentencing next month in Mercer County Court of Common Pleas.

"In the evaluation of my (Assistant District) Attorney Dan Davis, there were significant problems of proof with the theft," said District Attorney Robert Kochems on Thursday.

The case is against Enoch Matthew Blackburn, 41, who was arrested Dec. 11 by Mercer County state police at its Jackson Township barracks for possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, 10 counts of theft and 10 counts of receiving stolen property.

After the arrest, Mercer and Butler state police and the Hazardous Device Explosive Section from Harrisburg - also associated with state police - obtained a search warrant and seized seven pages worth of firearms, explosives, military gear and documents from Blackburn's North Broad apartment, where he lived for 10 years, court records state.

At the time, he was a manager at Altra Firearms in Jackson Township - where he was working towards partnership - and was accused by business partners of stealing firearms, cash and other merchandise over an 18-month period that led to a two-month investigation by state police, records said.

However, the DA's office decided to dismiss the 20 counts of theft-related charges and only charge Blackburn for the obliterated serial number on a Springfield Arms M-14 automatic rifle found on site that he owned, Kochems said.

Blackburn's father apparently brought the firearm back from Vietnam - and Blackburn had no Class III license to own the automatic rifle, which also came with a silencer, police had stated in December.

Kochem's staff couldn't prove "without a reasonable doubt" that Blackburn stole the weapons found in his apartment from Altra, which is why the 20 counts were dropped, he said.

The defense argued that firearms could be taken by the employees to try out at home, the DA said. Blackburn also tried to implicate Altra partner Keith Parris for giving him $16,000 worth of merchandise; however, Parris was never charged with stealing weapons, police had said.

"The big tipping point is business partners fall out and many times sue each other," Kochems said.

As for $80,000 reportedly missing in money, "Financial theft cases can be difficult to prove and it can take a lot of taxpayer's money," he stated.

A jury may look at Altra having "a lot of records written by hand," he said, and if an employee doesn't sign a log book to try out merchandise at home, "the assumption is he's bringing it back."

Considering the time spent on a financial crime, not much jail time is given if it's proven, Kochems added. Stealing more than $100,000 amounts to nine to 16 months in jail, plus or minus nine extra months, the DA explained.

"You don't get a lot of bang for the buck," Kochems said. "These become management and documenting issues that keep going. ... Gun theft cases are easier but you still have to prove it."

The one charge for the obliterated serial number "is clear and this man knows firearms," Kochems said. It's a second degree felony, because serial numbers on weapons are a tracking method that help authorities investigate crimes, he stated.

Blackburn plead guilty to the charge last month, records state.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had assisted state police in the investigation; however, Kochems did not know if the ATF was still holding its own separate probe, he noted.

According to court records, Blackburn could not post bail for $150,000 in December, but could post a reduced bail of $20,000 in March with the help of a brother, with whom he lives in Mercer.

Blackburn had spent just over three months in Mercer County Prison, and will get credit for time served, documents state. However, Kochems believes he will get more jail time with the one charge.

Since the automatic rifle wasn't loaded - "although there was ammunition in the house that could fit the gun," the DA said - a plea bargain was made to reduce the gravity of the obliterated serial number charge from 10 to nine, he added.

That will give county Judge Christopher St. John more leeway to sentence Blackburn with less jail time if he wishes, although the judge could also decide to follow the law for a second-degree felony, which is five to 10 years in jail and a $20,000 maximum fine, Kochems said.

Normally, judges follow guidelines by the state Legislature for crimes; the obliterated serial number charge with the gravity of nine can go from probation up to three years in jail, the DA explained.

"The judge has plenty of range to do what he wants. We're hoping he serves (more time)," Kochems said. "It's a big crime."

Investigating state police officer, Trooper Joseph Morris, could not be reached for comment.

However, notes on the guilty plea that Blackburn signed states: "Guns not purchased from Altra Firearms will be returned to Altra. Defendant's guns will be returned to a family member or defendant will provide proof of sale to PSP."

Court documents state that Blackburn's sentencing will be July 11.

Published June 14, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.

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