BOSTON — Tyngsboro Police Officer Daniel Whitman, who has been on a controversial paid leave from the department since August 2019, was charged in federal court Wednesday, along with a 49-year-old Westford man, on a single count of conspiracy to violate federal firearms laws.
While both Whitman, 36, of Pelham, N.H., and Bin Lu, 49, a Chinese national living in Westford, are charged with just one count of conspiracy to violate the National Firearms Act — a felony with a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine — the lead prosecutor in the case told a federal judge a “fairly wide-ranging” investigation involving both mens’ dealings remains ongoing.
“This investigation is more widespread than what is before the court now with the gun charges,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia Carris, of U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s Public Corruption & Special Prosecutions Unit. “There is a significant piece of this involving both defendants that involves dealings with China.”
Carris provided no further details in court, but an 11-page affidavit submitted to the court by Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Jarrod Pasciucco details an effort by Whitman and Lu to convert guns they were legally allowed to repair, buy and sell, into more heavily-regulated short-barrel rifles, which Whiteman’s firearms store does not have the proper licenses for.
And while the full scope of the investigation remains unclear, Pasciucco wrote that it has been underway for more than two years, and included a search of Whitman’s cellphone at one point as he re-entered the country, in addition to an already publicly-known search of his gun shop on Middlesex Road, Hitman Firearms LLC.
“In or about February 2018, Special Agents from HSI in Boston, Massachusetts began a criminal investigation into various activities of Whitman, Lu, and others,” the special agent wrote.
The length of Whitman’s suspension from the department has been a hot political topic in Tyngsboro, criticized by Whitman’s labor attorney, and is the subject of a labor grievance. Police Chief Richard Howe has said the suspension was based on his awareness that a federal investigation into Whitman was underway, even though he was not privy to the details of that probe.
The criminal charge both men face alleges they made, possessed and failed to register short-barreled rifles, and possessed a suppressor that wasn’t registered to either of them or Hitman Firearms, and which wasn’t properly logged in Hitman Firearm’s books.
Specifically, the affidavit details two guns that were purchased as guns or gun parts that Hitman was licensed to sell, and then converted into short-barreled rifles that were found during an Oct. 2 search of the gun shop.
One of those guns, a complete CMMG MK9 rifle found during a search of the shop, was purchased only as a lower receiver and stock, and was never registered once it was completed as a short-barrel rifle, according to the affidavit.
The other gun was found during a search of Lu’s vehicle after Lu showed up at 404 Middlesex Road while the search was ongoing, according to the affidavit. That gun was a Sig Sauer MCX with a folding stock attached. Federal records showed the gun was sold to Hitman as just a pistol, without a folding stock, and was never registered as a short-barreled rifle once a stock was attached, according to the affidavit.
When federal agents asked Lu who added the folding stock to the gun, Lu said, “Dan did it,” according to the affidavit.
The affidavit also reveals that federal agents had already searched Whitman’s cellphone when he returned to Logan Airport in Boston from Iceland on March 3. The affidavit says Whitman’s phone contained numerous conversations that were seized, as well as a document containing an audit of the 45 guns owned by Hitman.
“A total of 25 of these firearms are identified as being in the possession of “Bin.” Those firearms listed in Lu’s possession include (the two allegedly unlicensed short-barreled rifles),” Pasciucco wrote in the affidavit. “Seven of the other firearms list their location as ‘?’.”
Additionally, Pasciucco’s affidavit alleges the men allowed Lu’s nephew — who Pasciucco said is in the country illegally after overstaying his visa — to possess guns and even shoot with a suppressor owned by the Groton Police Department. Due to his immigration status, that nephew could not legally possess any kind of firearm, according to the affidavit.
A video in which the nephew was seen using the suppressor owned by Groton Police was deleted from a popular Mandarin Chinese Youtube page that Lu operates on the same day Hitman Firearms was searched by federal agents, according to the affidavit, which says it tentatively appears the video was shot at the Shirley Rod & Gun Club.
Pasciucco further explains that he learned Whitman obtained the suppressor — which can only be used by law enforcement in Massachusetts despite being legal in some other states — by “improperly” posing as someone who could sell Groton Police such weapons.
“He improperly marketed himself as an (Federal Firearms Licensee) who could obtain and manufacture such weapons, which included suppressors, which many police departments use for hearing protection, and night sights,” Pasciucco wrote. “As a result of this marketing campaign, Whitman sought to put together sample weapons for a demonstration to GPD and in order to effectuate a potential contract with GPD as its supplier.”
The affidavit says Whitman, in April 2019, wrote to Groton Police with an offer to supply 18 rifles, 18 sights, and nine suppressors. It was not immediately clear if Groton Police accepted the offer, or if they have purchased weapons from Whitman.
The affidavit also details a Youtube channel run by Lu that promotes both Hitman Firearms and Freedom Alley Shooting Sports, a business Whitman and Lu have worked on together and which sought to build a large indoor shooting range at 44 Cummings Road in Tyngsboro. The town granted a special permit for the shooting range in 2016, but the plans were never completed.
Nevertheless, Lu’s “Sig Shooter” Youtube channel, has over 60,000 subscribers and over 400 videos, most of which are in Mandarin Chinese.
“The channel as a whole appears informational and promotional in nature. Some videos are attempting to sell products and others appear to be targeting Chinese citizens who might be interested in coming to the United States for shooting camps run by Whitman and Lu,” Pasciucco wrote. “Many videos contain logos for FASS and Hitman Firearms.”
Pasciucco wrote in the affidavit that federal agents have reviewed training modules from “firearms training camps” that were run under the Freedom Alley Shooting Sports name, and determined they may have violated arms export laws.
“Lu and Whitman have, on several occasions, run firearms training camps under the FASS name for Chinese tourists consisting of shooting and tactics trainings. The Department of State has reviewed some of these training modules and determined they are defense articles as outlined in the Arms Export Control Act (AECA),” Pasciucco wrote in the affidavit. “Providing such trainings to foreign nationals requires a license from the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Whitman and Lu never applied for nor received the required license.”
Whitman, 36, a Tyngsboro Police officer since 2011, and who has previously faced suspension for working at his gun shop while on duty, was released on $20,000 unsecured bond, ordered to hand over his passport, and ordered not to have any firearms in his home while the case is pending during an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Boston Wednesday afternoon.
His attorney, Oscar Cruz Jr., briefly objected to Whitman being forced to turn over his personal firearms.
“I don’t believe there’s any allegations that he poses any danger to any member of the community,” Cruz said in court.
But Judge M. Page Kelley explained defendants in felony cases cannot have guns in their homes since they will be visited by federal probation officials.
“Just lock them up and leave them alone until the case is over,” the judge told Whitman. “But because you do have this business you can store the firearms there.”
Whitman said little during the roughly 40-minute hearing, except “yes, mam” when the judge asked if he understood that he has a right to remain silent during court proceedings.
Chief Howe said Whitman’s license to carry, issued by Tyngsboro Police, is under review, but he declined any further comment beyond a prepared statement released earlier in the day.
Lu, 49, was ordered by Judge Kelley to post a $30,000 secured bond, and possess no firearms while the case is pending. Prosecutors asked for higher bond for Lu since they believe he is more of a flight risk, and because they say he has access to large amounts of money hidden in the names of other people. Lu was also barred from buying or selling firearms, or working at Hitman Firearms while the case is pending.
Both Cruz and Kelly, Lu’s attorney, declined to comment beyond what they said in the court hearing.
Howe, who was previously notified that federal agents were serving a search warrant at Whitman’s business in town, but given little other information on the probe, released a prepared statement regarding Whitman’s status with the department.
“The Tyngsboro Police Department has from the moment of being notified of this investigation cooperated fully with federal investigators and will continue to do so as this case continues. I placed Officer Whitman on paid administrative leave in August 2019 as a result of this criminal investigation,” Howe said in the prepared statement. “Officer Whitman will remain on paid administrative leave pending a review of the specific information and allegations included in the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Justice today, which we have just received.”
To read the full affidavit, click here.