- Grove City, Pennsylvania

January 7, 2014

Seized weapons details released

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — After a two-month investigation, state police seized 70 firearms, an automatic weapon with a silencer, explosives and other gun-related paraphernalia from an apartment in Grove City - and a man accused of stealing some of the items is in the Mercer County Jail on a $150,000 bond.

Enoch Matthew Blackburn, 40, lived at an apartment at 105 N. Broad St., where state police from Jackson Township, Butler and the Hazardous Device Explosive Section in Harrisburg seized the items at 12:45 p.m. Dec. 11 - after obtaining a search warrant from district Judge Neil McEwen's office in Pine Township, said state Trooper Joseph B. Morris.

Grove City police closed roads surrounding the apartment.

Around 9:15 that morning, Blackburn was arrested at the Jackson Township barracks after police told him he would be assisting them in a "separate investigation" to lure him to the station, Morris said.

With him - and part of the setup - was an owner of Altra Firearms in Jackson Township, where the defendant worked and is accused of stealing firearms, cash and other merchandise over an 18-month period, the trooper said.

"We didn't want to (arrest him) near the residence or the firearms dealership. It was for safety reasons because of the weapons," he added.

After informing him of his rights, Blackburn agreed to "a lengthy interview," Morris said, "before we obtained the search warrant."

When obtaining the warrant, state police were told to seize every weapon on the premises because "we weren't sure where everything had come from, and because (Blackburn was facing) multiple felonies," Morris said. "We don't believe all the firearms were from Altra. He was a collector, so many were his personal ones he purchased over the years."

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is assisting due to the number of weapons, the alleged theft from Altra and because the ATF has more manpower, Morris added.

The ATF is also capable of searching serial numbers on the weapons, he said.

The serial number was removed from Blackburn's Springfield Arms M-14 automatic rifle - which was accompanied with a silencer - that he had no Class III license for, Morris stated.

The trooper said the automatic rifle may have belonged to Blackburn's father. "He indicated (his father) brought it back from Vietnam," Morris noted.

Other items at the apartment included more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition, military surplus items, rifle sights, night vision sets, pieces of pipe threaded at both ends, hobby fuses, gun powder, blasting caps, according to a police affidavit filed at McEwen's office. 

Finding the explosives materials in Blackburn's apartment was unexpected because, earlier that day, "He wasn't questioned specifically on those items before we obtained the warrant," Morris said. However, "There was nothing to indicate he had a bomb-making facility in the residence. There was nothing constructed."

Blackburn did admit to having the blasting caps, which are used to detonate dynamite, Morris added, and the accused was not licensed to have them.

Twelve blasting caps were seized from the apartment and detonated by the state police explosive unit in a safe location at the Jackson Township barracks, the trooper noted.

"They're not safe. He should not have had them," Morris said, adding that the blasting caps had belonged to Blackburn's father.

The investigation began in early November after Altra owner Paul Chandler and his business partner, Keith Paris, approached state police about the alleged merchandise thefts and about $80,000 missing between bank deposits and company cash, according to the police affidavit.

They and business partner Dennis Pack suspected the culprit to be Blackburn, who was hired in 2011 for store operations and management and working towards partnership, the affidavit added.

Chandler became suspicious of Blackburn in the summer when a company bank deposit was short $3,000, and began investigating financial records 18 months back and finding inconsistencies, it stated.

The owner didn't have a complete list of the missing merchandise for police "because Blackburn had failed to keep records of what he had ordered," the affidavit said. He and the other partners believed the defendant was stealing them, it added.

During questioning, Blackburn did not admit to the thefts, Morris said.

He told state police that Paris gave him $16,000 worth of merchandise over the years "that he now believed ... were stolen from Altra Firearms by Paris," the affidavit said, including a Steyr Arms AUG A3 rifle that police believed Blackburn stole after conducting an undercover investigation.

A police press release stated that other missing guns and merchandise from Altra were consistent with the findings in Blackburn's apartment.

"He either claims he placed them on a layaway list that we can't find any evidence of; some he said he paid for but he didn't remember who he paid and said he didn't have receipts for them," Morris said.

"The other partners said he didn't pay for any of them," he added.

Chandler and Paris stated that Blackburn would stash money "because he does not trust the government and is Ôpreparing for the end of the world,'" the affidavit said.

The investigation is ongoing and no one else was arrested in the alleged crime, Morris said. The trooper added that Paris was not a suspect in the thefts.

So far, felony charges were filed for 10 guns allegedly stolen by Blackburn, Morris said. He is charged with 10 counts of theft; 10 counts of receiving stolen property; and one count of possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, he added.

"There most likely will be more charges added," Morris stated.

Blackburn's motive in having so many firearms and related goods is because he's "interested in military items," Morris said. Some people are part of a "subculture" who enjoy collecting weaponry and ammunition, he stated.

"Both Paris and Chandler ... related that Blackburn loves his firearms and they were confident that he would never be able to get rid of any of his because he is so obsessed with them," the affidavit added.

"If there's a conviction, he wouldn't be permitted to possess firearms," Morris said.

Blackburn's preliminary hearing before McEwen is set for 9 a.m. Jan. 8.

Published Dec. 28, 2013, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.