West Pottsgrove straw gun purchaser sentenced to jail

NORRISTOWN >> A West Pottsgrove man who testified last month that a Lower Pottsgrove gun trafficker recruited him to make so-called “straw purchases” of handguns has learned his fate from a judge.

Corey DeJohnette, 23, of the 100 block of Anthony Wayne Drive, was sentenced in Montgomery County Court to 163 days already served to 23 months in jail in connection with his role as a straw purchaser of two firearms for gun trafficker Michael Hill. The sentence was imposed by Judge Todd D. Eisenberg.

DeJohnette previously pleaded guilty to charges of corrupt organizations, unsworn falsification and unlawful transfer of a firearm to an ineligible person in connection with his straw purchase of two handguns at a gun show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Upper Providence on Dec. 18, 2015.

During the sentencing hearing, county Assistant District Attorney Brianna Ringwood made the judge aware of DeJohnette’s cooperation and testimony during Hill’s trial.

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Hill, 31, of the 2900 block of Walnut Ridge Estates, Lower Pottsgrove was convicted by a jury of multiple charges including corrupt organizations, unlawful transfer of a firearm, person not to possess firearms and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities in connection with seven completed straw purchases and two attempted straw purchases that occurred between February 2015 and December 2016. Prosecutors alleged Hill spearheaded the gun trafficking network.

Hill, who is represented by defense lawyer Pietro D’Angelo, remains in prison awaiting sentencing. Hill potentially faces decades in prison on the charges.

During Hill’s trial, DeJohnette testified Hill took him to the gun show.

“We walked around…looking at guns. Mike proceeded to point out a few guns and I bought two of them,” DeJohnette testified last month. “I purchased the firearms for Michael.”

DeJohnette, who was represented by defense lawyer Keith Harbison, told the jury that Hill provided the money to purchase the guns.

DeJohnette, who could legally purchase firearms, filled out the required state and federal paperwork indicating he was the purchaser even though the weapons were for Hill, who had a lengthy criminal record and was not permitted to possess firearms. DeJohnette, who testified he didn’t know what Hill was going to do with the guns, admitted he lied on the government paperwork and knew what he was doing was wrong.

Such criminal behavior is commonly referred to as “straw purchases.” A straw purchase, detectives explained to the jury, occurs when the buyer of a firearm uses another person, a “straw purchaser,” to execute the paperwork necessary to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer.

During the investigation, detectives rounded up six of Hill’s alleged associates, those who conspired with Hill by either purchasing or attempting to purchase firearms on Hill’s behalf. Hill, detectives alleged, supplied the funds, the transportation and was present for some of the straw purchases or attempted straw purchases.

“The main purpose of this corrupt organization was to arm individuals, including Hill, who are precluded from legally owning a firearm…due to their criminal history,” county detectives alleged in court documents. “Hill recruited and employed individuals in this gun trafficking organization with ‘clean’ criminal histories. These underlings then falsified documents to purchase multiple firearms on Hill’s behalf.”

The joint investigation was conducted by the district attorney’s Violent Crime Unit, officers from the Pottstown, West Pottsgrove and Lower Pottsgrove police departments and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In August 2016, a Pottstown man was charged in connection with an armed robbery in West Pottsgrove and investigators seized a Ruger P-90 .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun from his residence. Investigators identified the registered owner of the firearm as DeJohnette, who legally purchased it at the gun show in Upper Providence in December 2015, according to the criminal complaint.

“This firearm was not reported stolen by Corey DeJohnette. Based on this investigation, law enforcement had identified Corey DeJohnette as a straw purchaser in the Michael Hill gun trafficking organization,” detectives alleged.

Detectives with the Violent Crime Unit testified for Ringwood and co-prosecutor Robert Kolansky that they used old-fashioned surveillance, cellphone records and search warrants to link Hill to the gun trafficking organization. Hill, detectives alleged, frequented various gun shows held at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Upper Providence and undercover detectives placed him under surveillance and observed Hill “walking from vendor to vendor and looking at various firearms and firearm accessories for sale.”

On Dec. 19, 2016, detectives, armed with a warrant approved by a judge, searched Hill’s Lower Pottsgrove residence. A detective testified that during the search, authorities seized three firearms and several empty gun boxes and 396 live rounds of various types of ammunition.