Badger Guns sold a .38-caliber revolver to a 55-year-old woman, despite warning signs that she was buying the gun for her felon boyfriend, according to court records.
Sherrill Worthy went to Badger in November 2008 to buy a gun for James Funches, a convicted drug dealer who was wanted on a weapons charge in Arkansas, records show. The clerk at Badger stood behind the counter and asked Worthy which gun she wanted, she said.
"(Funches) picked it out. He told me which one he wanted," said Worthy, of Milwaukee. She told authorities all she knew about the gun was its caliber and that it was "pretty."
Worthy said Friday after her sentencing in federal court that she was not sure if a Badger employee heard Funches pick out the gun, but prosecutors, law enforcement and other gun store owners have said the scenario of a woman buying a gun with a man standing by silently should warrant tough questions.
Adam Allan, the owner of Badger in West Milwaukee, has insisted these are just the kind of people he kicks out of his store. But that didn't happen and the sale was made to Worthy.
Worthy said she came back a few days later to pick up the gun, but went into Badger alone while Funches waited in the parking lot - another telltale sign of "straw buying," when someone buys a gun for a felon, according to authorities.
Funches, 40, was caught with the gun a couple months later after he was stopped for speeding, according to court documents. He had the .38-caliber revolver from Badger, loaded, in his coat pocket. Beside him was his teenage grandson; Funches also had an ounce of marijuana in the car, the documents say.
The scenario is similar to another straw-buying case at Badger in May when 18-year-old Julius Burton - who couldn't legally buy a handgun at Badger because of his age - picked out a gun in the store and had 21-year-old Jacob Collins buy it for him, court records show.
That gun was used to shoot two Milwaukee police officers in the head a month later, according to prosecutors. Collins pleaded guilty in federal court to straw buying, and will be sentenced in January.
Burton's case is pending in state court.
Badger has been under fire after Milwaukee police found during an operation that felons frequent Badger, even practicing at the store's shooting range. Badger and its predecessor have accounted for roughly one-third of crime guns recovered by Milwaukee police each year and have been among the top stores in the nation for selling crime guns. The past six officers shot in Milwaukee have been wounded with guns from Badger.
Allan was out of town and unavailable for comment Friday. He has said he has taken a hard line on straw buyers. Federal court records show Badger has been the scene of more straw buying than any other gun shop in eastern Wisconsin.
Nine of 10 straw buyers prosecuted since 2007 made their purchases at Badger Guns or its predecessor, Badger Outdoors, a review of court records shows. In the past five years, the store accounted for 21 of the 27 cases prosecuted.
Worthy was one of those cases. She was sentenced Friday to three years' probation and fined $3,000 by U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa.
Like most straw buyers, Worthy had a clean record. If done properly, background checks make it impossible for felons to buy a gun for themselves. But experts say there are plenty of people willing to act as straw buyers because the penalties are light. In Wisconsin, it is a misdemeanor for someone to buy a gun for a felon. Lawmakers have proposed making it a felony.
It already is a federal felony, so virtually all straw buying cases in eastern Wisconsin are sent to federal court, authorities said.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months in prison for Worthy, but Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson recommended probation because he said Worthy helped in the prosecution of Funches, who has pleaded guilty in federal court to being a felon in possession of a gun. He has not been sentenced.
Johnson said the U.S. attorney's office has prosecuted gun dealers who knowingly sell guns to felons through straw buyers, but that can be a tough case to make. He said the circumstances don't support such charges in this case.
"We would have to prove the seller knew she wasn't the buyer," Johnson said. "We have no way to prove what they knew."