TEMPLE HILLS – On the evening of Sept. 7, according to documents in Prince George’s County District Court, a man entered Freestate Arms and Munitions, plunked down $525 and was handed – no questions asked – an Uzi 9 millimeter assault weapon and a detachable magazine capable of holding more than 30 rounds of ammunition.
He shelled out $640 more and immediately obtained a revolver and a pistol, in violation of the state’s required seven-day waiting period, court records say.
Unluckily for the store’s owner, Jay Farrell Brooking, 39, of Silver Spring, the customer was an undercover state trooper.
What followed was a three-month investigation linking guns sold at Freestate to more than 100 violent crimes nationwide, including at least 10 local slayings, State Police say. A weapon recovered in October after a sniper’s ambush killed one soldier and wounded 18 others at Fort Bragg, N.C., was purchased at the store, police say.
Brooking was arrested Sept. 27. He faces 10 counts of violating laws regulating the sale or transfer of pistols, according to the charging documents.
The probe into his business, conducted by both state and federal agencies, was touted as part of “Operation Cease Fire,” Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s program to crackdown on the illegal sale of firearms.
“We will continue to aggressively pursue illegal gun traffickers who jeopardize the safety of all Marylanders,” Glendening said in a news conference outside store on the day of the arrest.
State Police say Brooking’s problems began at midnight June 30, when he missed the deadline for renewing his dealer’s license. The licensing division called him “again and again about the dealer’s license,” says Detective Sgt. Jack Simpson. “Finally they advised him to stop selling and he said okay. But apparently he didn’t.”
Meanwhile, the licensing division was bombarded with calls from Brooking’s customers, who wanted to know why it was taking so long to approve their applications for gun permits, Simpson says.
State law says gun dealers must file the application with police within 24 hours. The customer must wait seven days after approval to purchase a gun.
“Brooking apparently had been keeping the $10 application fees and not ever sending in the forms,” Simpson says.
Brooking, however, said in a recent telephone interview that he is being falsely portrayed. “Let me just say that I am not the monster that police are making me out to be,” he said.
“The people who complained about me are after me for an unrelated reason,” Brooking added, explaining only that “it’s about a personal matter.”
He also said he had been assaulted since his release on a $50,000 bond, but had not reported the incidents.
“For now I am working toward getting the refunds back to the customers and am awaiting trial. I have a lawyer helping me,” Brooking said.
The trial is set for Jan. 3.
According to court records, police were contacted by a customer who had called Brooking twice in a month to ask about the status of his application.
That customer would later serve as an investigative source. On Sept. 6, according to the charging documents, he accompanied the undercover officer to Brooking’s store, where Brooking sold him a Ruger, a P-94, and a 9 millimeter pistol for a total of $430.
Simpson says Brooking “told the customer that he would sell them the gun even though he hadn’t heard back from the licensing department.”
Early the next evening, the undercover police officer was back at the store for a second shopping trip – this time for himself.
On Sept. 25 — 18 days later — police checked whether Brooking had filed the necessary forms for the sales to the undercover officer. He hadn’t, Simpson says.
State Police had already contacted U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, whose subsequent firearms trace linked 107 weapons recovered from violent crimes across the country to Freestate sales between March 1 and September 21, 1994.
The investigation is continuing.
“We have about 15 boxes worth of documents that we have to go through. We are still getting calls from people who got guns without the waiting seven days or who need refunds,” Simpson says. He says “many more charges” are likely.
Brooking, meanwhile, said in the telephone interview that his store was robbed numerous times over the past months.
“How am I to be accountable for guns after they have been stolen from my store?” he asked.
State Police say that Brooking reported that early on April 19, 1990, his store was broken into and nine guns were stolen.
But the serial numbers from the guns reported stolen did not show up in the traces that led to Brooking’s arrest.
“We have all the reports about guns that were stolen. None of those guns were recovered yet,” Simpson says.
Until recently, a recorded message answered calls to Freestate, asking for personal information so the caller could get a refund. The store’s number is no longer in service, and Brooking’s home telephone number is now disconnected. -30-