A judge on Monday handed down a prison term of 2 to 14 years to a Northeast Philadelphia man convicted of purchasing guns for a 16-year-old reputed drug dealer, allegedly in exchange for heroin.
Luke Dercole, 33, of the 6400 block of Lawndale Avenue in Lawncrest, pleaded guilty in September to buying four guns on four separate occasions last October and handing them over to Michael Burak, who allegedly paid Dercole in packets of heroin.
Burak on Oct. 28, 2012 used one of the firearms to shoot Jonathan Espinoza, 20, at a house in the 1200 block of Van Kirk Street in the city's Oxford Circle section, according to court records. Espinoza survived the shooting and Burak in September pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and is currently serving 4 to 8 years in state prison.
“The fact that a grown man bought four different guns for a 16-year-old is unfathomable,” District Attorney Seth Williams said in a statement issued at the time of Dercole’s arrest in February. “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.”
Prosecutors said the investigation into the straw purchases touched off in January after narcotics agents searching a Frankford Avenue home found a Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun. Police traced that gun back to Dercole and discovered it was one of four firearms he had purchased within a one-week span that October. None of the guns were reported stolen or missing.
Dercole during a police interview admitted to buying the guns for Burak, then allegedly trading them for heroin. Dercole first purchased a Ruger LCP .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol Oct. 17. On Oct. 19, he bought a .22-caliber revolver, but the next day sold it back to the gun store for a .380-caliber Taurus semiautomatic handgun. As Burak apparently remained unsatisfied with the purchase, Dercole on Oct. 23 exchanged the Taurus for the 9mm Glock. Burak just five days later used the gun to shoot Espinoza in the shoulder and head.
The state Attorney General and Philadelphia District Attorney's Office Gun Violence Task Force in February charged Dercole with illegally transferring firearms, carrying unlicensed firearms, carrying firearms in public, possession of a firearm by a minor, corruption of a minor, conspiracy, making unsworn falsifications to authorities and tampering with public records. A 14-year prison sentence is the maximum penalty a judge can issue for those offenses.
“Buying multiple guns for a minor, who then shoots another teen, is not only unacceptable – it is a tragedy,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said February in a release. “This is an example of how enforcing sensible laws against illegal gun trafficking makes our streets safer.”