A former security guard for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has been sentenced to 14 years in prison along with three years of supervised release for stealing thousands of firearms and parts from a West Virginia firearms destruction facility, local media reported this week.
Christopher Lee Yates, 52, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, admitted to having stolen the firearms from an ATF facility from 2016 to when he was caught earlier this year. The contract worker used his access to the firearm destruction area to steal and sell over 4,500 firearms and parts, including 60 pistols, 120 rifles, four automatic machine guns and three components to make rocket launchers.
Yates entered a guilty plea and received a four-year sentence for theft of government property and a ten-year sentence for possession of a stolen firearm. The judge also ordered Yates to obtain treatment for a gambling addiction and prohibited him from entering casinos.
In his statements at the sentencing and to probation, Yates claimed that he stole the firearms because he “gave into his vanity” and wanted to feel important. He added that he turned his back on God and those close to him, but he couldn’t stop stealing.
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While he claimed that he didn’t know all the rules pertaining to firearms, he said he wanted to accept responsibility for that lack of knowledge.
Firearms linked to Yates have been recovered in 49 states, in Mexico and the Caribbean, and at crime scenes. When GunsAmerica reported on this story earlier this year, the ATF refused to say how many of the stolen firearms and parts had been recovered. At the sentencing hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finucane told the judge that the bureau had recovered 4,625 of the items in question.
Despite Yates’ tearful statement, Chief U.S. District Judge Gina Groh questioned the authenticity of the defendant’s remorse. She called Yates’ crime “very, very serious in nature” and noted that Yates failed to apologize to the communities he exposed to violent crime by putting firearms back into circulation.
Finucane told the judge that the ATF’s policies for storing and destroying firearms aren’t to blame. The ATF’s real mistake was allowing Yates unfettered access to the facility.
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The defense called witnesses who testified to Yates character, gambling addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder. His lawyers asked the judge to “take into account the entirety of this man’s life” when determining the sentence.
Yates didn’t help his case by lying to ATF agents and failing to admit guilt until presented with evidence, ATF Special Agent Seth Cox told the judge. Cox also said that Yates hadn’t helped with the recovery efforts and had been uncooperative in the ATF investigation of the gun dealer who bought much of what Yates stole.
The judge revoked Yates’ bond and placed him in the custody of U.S. Marshals at the conclusion of Monday’s hearing, ruling that he posed a danger to himself.