Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged a gun dealer who operated out of a ramshackle old mill in Littleton with conspiring to sell three Glock handguns to a straw buyer that were later recovered during the investigation of a shooting in Boston that left three people wounded.
Prosecutors say Cory Daigle, 28, operating as Steelworks Defense Solutions, sold the three pistols to the straw buyer on Oct. 27 while knowing the weapons were actually going to an underage person. Less than two weeks later, the intended buyer of the guns, 20-year-old Gustavo Rodriguez, turned up at a hospital, apparently wounded during a shooting that night in Hyde Park, according to court filings.
The charges against Daigle, Rodriguez, and the alleged straw buyer, Shakim Grant, publicly connect a vendor at the controversial gun emporium in Littleton to street crime in Boston, more than 30 miles away, for the first time. The charges also undermine claims by some gun rights advocates that licensed gun dealers are not a major source of guns used in street crime.
Daigle is among roughly 80 vendors at the mill building who hold federal licenses to manufacture and sell firearms, the largest cluster of gun vendors at a single address in the nation. The mill was the subject of a Globe investigation in September, which reported that it was well known in local gun circles as a place where some dealers are willing to exploit loopholes in the state’s notoriously strict gun laws.
The dealers there insist they are following the letter of the law.
Dealers can only legally sell Glock pistols to law enforcement officers in Massachusetts. But federal prosecutors say Daigle worked with another unnamed dealer at the Littleton mill to sell Grant two of the Glocks in two pieces, a common tactic dealers use to skirt state gun laws, which only regulate the sale of complete firearms.
The charges against Daigle “speaks to the need to close every single loophole in our gun safety laws,” and to make sure “that law enforcement are regularly and comprehensively checking every gun dealer,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge, whose district includes Littleton.
Daigle and Grant could not be reached for comment. An attorney for Rodriguez, William Keefe, said his client has no prior criminal record and intends to plead not guilty to the charges. Keefe said Rodriguez has also pleaded not guilty to a related state case.
Since the Globe’s investigation in September, Littleton residents have been calling on the state and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to assist Littleton’s small police force in doing a thorough investigation of all mill dealers. But the charges against Daigle did not originate from a state or ATF investigation. Instead, detectives from Boston uncovered the Glocks during a search of the Hyde Park home where Rodriguez was staying. Police then alerted ATF officials.
Daigle acknowledged he made the sales, according to an affidavit by a special agent with the ATF. “At the end of that day I needed the . . . cash to pay my distributor,” he allegedly told agents during their Jan. 5 search of his Revere apartment. “The point is I’m a gun dealer, I did a straw purchase.”
Under federal law, dealers cannot knowingly sell guns to anyone other than the person who will own it, and that person must be properly licensed. In this case, federal prosecutors say, Daigle knew that Grant, who is 22 and lives in Boston, was buying the guns for Rodriguez, who had no federal license and was too young to get one.
The ATF agent said that during the search of Daigle’s home, investigators seized 95 firearms “scattered throughout the house and seemingly in no order,” including most of the firearms in his business inventory. In searching Daigle’s shop in Littleton, officials observed that most of Daigle’s inventory, tools, and paperwork were kept at his home. State law prohibits people from operating gun businesses out of their home.
Among the 95 firearms seized were at least two short-barreled rifles, an Uzi machine gun that he built and hadn’t registered, and parts to machine guns, at least some of which investigators say he wasn’t permitted to own. Daigle is charged with conspiracy for the straw sales to Rodriguez, and with unlawfully possessing or transferring machine guns.
Daigle runs a tiny business and shares a room with several other vendors, a typical setup inside the mill. His shop reported to the state 68 firearms sales from September 2021 through September 2022. The alleged straw sales to Grant were made in October.
In September, the Globe reported that of the 32 vendors in the mill that the Globe visited or found had posted weapons for sale online, 25 were hawking weapons like AR-15s or the parts to make them at home, in open defiance of a controversial directive of the state’s assault weapons ban that Maura Healey issued in 2016 as the attorney general.
But most of the vendors — including Daigle — had little or no Web presence, making it difficult to know exactly what type of business they were engaged in. Steelworks Defense Solutions’ website has only partial photos of a business card with a skull logo that reads: “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
Littleton Police Chief Matthew Pinard said the ATF has not done a review or audit of all of the dealers in the mill yet, as had been planned prior to the Globe’s story in September, but he is “still hopeful” it will happen. But he said ATF agents “are in and out of the mill on a regular basis” and so far have not found any illegality.
An ATF spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In response to the uproar over the Globe’s findings, Littleton officials started courting buyers for the building — which was up for sale following the owner’s death in April — and working on a zoning measure that would prevent such a large cluster in the future. The rezoning proposal was supported by a petition signed by 124 residents, and will be voted on in February.
Last week, the Lupoli Companies, a developer based in Lawrence, bought the mill building and another small building for $5.3 million, with plans that would displace the tenants there, including the gun vendors. The company has been proceeding on redevelopment of a property across the street into an enormous mixed use development on a former IBM property with 780 apartments and more than 600,000 square feet of commercial space.
When the company expressed interest in the mill building in the wake of the Globe’s reporting, the Littleton planning board quickly approved its proposal to raze the building and construct an additional 285 apartments in its place.
Noting he has worked with Littleton officials for two years on the adjacent project, chief executive Sal Lupoli released a statement saying he had “a vested interest in protecting the community and my investment,” and in referring to the gun emporium, added, “I could not sit on the sidelines.”
A Lupoli spokesperson said the company’s leasing team will be meeting with the gun vendors and other tenants of the old mill “individually to discuss their leases.”