Gun thieves plead guilty

Tribune Staff • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:15 PM

Joseph Jerry Sweet, 33, and Ronald Patrick Cook, 27, now face up to 10 years in prison on each count.

The U.S. Department of Justice said the two men broke into the Renegade River store in Spring Lake sometime during the night of June 27 and stole eight guns. At about 12:30 a.m. July 13, the pair broke into the Grasmeyer Brothers Gun & Supply Shop in Muskegon County's Dalton Township, where they took 24 firearms, including 20 handguns and four rifles.

Both stores are federally licensed firearms dealers.

Cook admitted as part of his plea and in an interview with law enforcement that the two intended to sell the firearms, and that they exchanged some of the weapons for heroin and cash on the street.

"Intending to sell stolen firearms is both illegal and dangerous," U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles said. "These defendants put people’s lives at risk by increasing the number of illegal guns in the hands of criminals.”

Police arrested the two men soon after the break-in of the gun shop in Dalton Township, near Twin Lake. Surveillance video from the store showed two masked subjects breaking in and taking the firearms.

Images of the suspects were sent to area police departments, and personnel from the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety recognized Sweet. They also recognized the car in the video as one Sweet was known to drive.

Grand Haven officers then located Sweet and his vehicle. Officials said the vehicle used in the break-in had been repainted.

Police said they obtained search warrants and further evidence of Sweet’s involvement in the break-in. Following his arrest, police identified Cook as the second suspect and arrested him in Ottawa County.

Cook has five prior felony convictions, including breaking and entering in 2007 and assault with a dangerous weapon in 2011. Sweet is a three-time convicted felon: breaking and entering in 2004, larceny in 2005 and felony drunken driving in 2008.

Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson had previously said most of their criminal history took place in Ottawa County.

Federal charges of possessing firearms as convicted felons will be dismissed at sentencing, given the guilty pleas to the theft charges, authorities said.

The case resulted from a coordinated investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Muskegon County Sheriff’s Department; Ottawa County Sheriff's Department; Grand Haven Department of Public Safety; Spring Lake/Ferrysburg Police Department; and Michigan State Police/West Michigan Enforcement Team.

“Once again our long-standing partnership between local and federal law enforcement has been successful in reaching across jurisdictional lines and bringing perpetrators to justice,” Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz said.

Cook and Sweet will be sentenced by federal Judge Robert Jonker in about 90 days. A date has not yet been set.

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