District Attorney Seth Williams today announced the arrest of a 32-year-old Northeast Philadelphia man for selling four guns made through straw purchases to a 16-year-old boy in exchange for heroin.
The boy - a drug dealer - then used one of the guns to shoot another man, authorities say.
Luke Dercole, of the 6400 block of Lawndale Avenue, Philadelphia, is accused of buying guns in four separate straw purchases, then selling the guns to Michael Burak, also of Philadelphia. A straw purchaser's role is to buy a gun for a felon barred by law from owning firearms.
Burak then used one of the guns to shoot Jonathan Espinosa, 20, in the shoulder and head, Williams said. Espinoza survived the October attack. Burak was charged with attempted murder.
Williams used the arrest as a platform to prompt discussion for tougher gun laws.
“This is why we need stricter gun laws,” Williams said. “Eight-five percent of Philly's 334 murders in 2012 were handgun slayings. None of those guns were legal.”
Williams called guns a “public health problem” in Philadelphia with too many neighborhoods “littered with teddy bears and balloons because of lives lost."
“The fact that a grown man bought four different guns for a 16-year-old is unfathomable,” Williams said in a prepared statement. “That coupled with the harsh reality that the teen then used one of those guns to shoot another young man only cements the need for tougher penalties for straw purchasers in Pennsylvania.”
Dercole was arrested Wednesday night and is being held on $500,000 bail.
Kevin Steele, Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney, was also at the press conference to show support of newly strengthened straw purchasing laws. Officer Bradley Fox, of the Plymouth Township Police Department in Montgomery County, was slain in September.
Fox, a 34-year-old father of one child with another due, was shot and killed by Andrew C. Thomas during a chase. Thomas later killed himself.
Thomas was a convicted felon who acquired his guns through a straw purchase.
The slaying provoked an outcry. As a result, Pennsylvania enacted “the Brad Fox Law” that mandates tougher prison sentences for straw purchasers of guns.
The law went into effect Dec. 26., It would not apply to Dercole, since the shooting resulting from his straw gun sale occurred prior to that in October.