5 Wabash County men charged in connection to federal investigation

By Emma Rausch and David Fenker

NORTH MANCHESTER – Four North Manchester men and one Winona Lake man have been arrested in connection to the federal investigation of a Fulton County gun store burglary, the North Manchester Police Department (NMPD) announced Friday, March 10.

A man from the nation of Mexico has also been indicted in connection to the case.

On Nov. 20, between approximately 12:30-3:30 a.m., an unidentified individual or individuals made a forced entry into the Sand Burr Gun Ranch, located at 2111 E. County Road 350 N. in Rochester, according to a criminal complaint filed in the United State District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.

The building was not equipped with an alarm or video surveillance system and was uninsured at the time, the complaint continued.

Since December, North Manchester has been a focal point in the investigation with eight guns found in the North Manchester area, according to NMPD Chief Jim Kirk.

On Dec. 8, 2016, NMPD Officer Isaac Adams pulled a vehicle over for a traffic offense. During the stop, Sgt. Nate Birch and K-9 unit Strider alerted the officers that the vehicle contained controlled substances, according to a NMPD press release.

Controlled substances were discovered along with a loaded handgun, which was traced back as stolen from the Sand Burr Gun Ranch, the release continued.

Following the traffic stop, officers arrested Jeffrey Owsley, 24, Pierceton, on the preliminary charges of felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license, felony carrying a handgun without a license, felony theft, felony illegal possession of a syringe and misdemeanor dealing in a synthetic drug or synthetic dug lookalike substance, according to Wabash County Circuit Court documents.

On Jan. 30, Owsley was convicted of felony unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and sentenced to five years in the Indiana Department of Corrections.

After following several leads, NMPD officers and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) conducted a search on a North Manchester residence, located at 11173 N. State Road 13, on Jan. 19.

However, “to my knowledge there weren’t any (firearms) recovered there,” Fulton County Sheriff Chris Sailors told The Paper of Wabash County.

On Jan. 21, NMPD officers were summoned to a Wayne Street residence in which a victim advised someone threatened him with a handgun, the local law enforcement’s press release continued.

Sgt. Grey Tomlinson and Officer Derek Sessoms arrived on the call, and were later assisted by Det. Randy Miller and Kirk. During the investigation, the officers received a search warrant and recovered a handgun, which traced back as one of the Sand Burr Gun Ranch’s stolen firearm, according to the press release.

Following the investigation, Bryce Zook, 19, North Manchester, was charged with felony intimidation, felony pointing a firearm, felony theft and misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license.

The Jan. 21 investigation also connected officers to another lead in the federal investigation.

On Jan. 24, Miller received information that Mason K. France, 19, Winona Lake, allegedly sold a local minor a revolver and had possession of several other guns stolen from a gun store, according to a NMPD probable cause affidavit.

The youth advised local officers that the revolver was located buried in a wooded area near North 300 West in Silver Lake, which the officers located on Jan. 25, the document continued.

The recovered firearm was traced back as “not wanted,” according to Miller.

On Jan. 26, AFT agents informed NMPD that they had received information alleging that France had discarded a backpack containing multiple firearms in the Eel River near the Liberty Mills public access point, the probable cause affidavit continued.

On Feb. 2, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Law District One and NMPD conducted an evidence dive of the area and located the backpack, which contained five firearms that were traced back as stolen from the gun ranch, according the NMPD press release.

France was preliminary charged with felony dangerous control of a firearm, felony theft and felony obstruction of justice.

On Thursday, March 9, the United States Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Indiana announced France was indicted in federal court of possession of stolen firearms, possession of a firearm while under felony and selling a firearm to a juvenile.

The attorney’s office noted that, in December, France received one or more firearms while pending a felony charge; in December and January, he possessed stolen firearms; and in January, he sold a handgun to a juvenile, according to the office’s press release.

"(NMPD) arrested (Zook, Owsley and France)" Kirk told the News-Journal. "We charged them through Circuit Court here in Wabash County. Owsley's already plead guilty and Zook is still pending. France is facing federal charges."

Also indicted in connection to the case were Robert M. Hoy, 21, of North Manchester, Charles M. Hammer, 30, of North Manchester, and Jose Rogelio Ver-Diaz, 21, of Mexico.

On Nov. 20, Hoy and Diaz stole one or more firearms from the Sand Burr Gun Ranch, which is licensed to engage in business from importing, manufacturing or dealing in firearms, according to the attorney’s office press release.

In November and December, Hammer possessed a firearm after having previously been convicted of a felony offense, the release continued.

Hoy and Diaz are facing the charge of stealing firearms from a Federal Firearms Licensee while Hammer was charged with felon in possession of a firearm.

Diaz's whereabout are currently unknown as he has fled North Manchester, according to Kirk.

"They're still working this whole case because there are still guns coming up here and there," Kirk said. "The (federal agents) have taken care of the guys that did the burglary though. Ours are more of the people that we stopped ourselves and arrested and they had some of those guns."

If convicted in court, any specific sentence to be imposed will be determined by the judge after a consideration of federal sentencing statues and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

The investigation was conducted by the ATF in coordination with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department, the NMPD and the Wabash County Sheriff’s Department.

Posted on 2017 Mar 10