BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Ten people have been arrested on charges related to drug trafficking and firearms crimes.
The arrests came after an investigation involving twelve law enforcement agencies over the course of more than a year.
The investigation began in Benton Harbor, but the case led authorities to Grand Rapids as well.
Five individuals were arrested Thursday morning, while five more were already in custody. A single man still remains at large.
Seven of the men arrested face charges in relation to the possession and transfer of firearm conversion devices known as "switches."
Switches can be installed on semi-automatic pistols, turning them into fully automatic machine guns capable of firing over 1,000 rounds per minute or 16 rounds per second.
The devices are cheap to manufacture and cheap to install, taking less than a minute.
“Today’s action represents a major step forward in our efforts to combat the rise of violent crime in Michigan,” said Mark Totten, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. “The destructive capacity of a firearm equipped with a switch is staggering. These devices are an emerging threat to our communities, our children, our law enforcement officers, and anyone who stands in the path of their indiscriminate spray.”
More than 200 law enforcement personnel from across a dozen law enforcement agencies participated in the operation.
“Fighting violent crime requires approaches tailored to the needs of individual communities. That is why our approach to disrupting this conspiracy to distribute firearms, switches, and drugs involved the kind of coordination you see here today,” said James A. Tarasca, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Michigan.
Police are continuing to search for Eric Williams, 23, who is charged with conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun.
Members of the public with information as to Williams’s whereabouts are encouraged to contact the United States Marshals Service at (616) 456-2438. He is believed to be located in either Benton Harbor or Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The investigation was led by the FBI, in cooperation with the following law enforcement agencies: Michigan State Police Southwest Enforcement Team, ATF, Drug Enforcement Administration, Department of Homeland Security, Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, Benton Township Police Department, Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians Tribal Police, Michigan Department of Corrections and United States Postal Inspection Service.
Even when not attached to a gun, a switch is still considered a machine gun. Former U.S. District Attorney of Western Michigan Patrick Miles says this can land people in legal jeopardy.
"That is a case where the law is keeping up with with the technologies, where you could make your own device on a 3d printer or so forth," Miles says. "It's illegal to possess that type of a device, and certainly to traffic in it. So the people who are making these devices, and then say, 'Hey, we're not selling guns, we're just selling this little device,' and saying 'You can't come after us.' I think they're mistaken."
You can read the full complaint here:
Watch the entire press conference here:
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