Frederick County sheriff and shooting range owner indicted by federal grand jury for scheme to illegally buy machine guns
Frederick County’s top law enforcement officer has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Baltimore with conspiracy and making false statements to acquire machine guns on behalf of a county shooting range, The Machine Gun Nest.
Sheriff Charles “Chuck” Jenkins (R) faces five counts, along with Robert Justin Krop, a 36-year-old Frederick man who is the owner and co-founder of The Machine Gun Nest, an indoor shooting range just outside the Frederick city limits.
The indictment was handed up by the grand jury and announced publicly on Wednesday, though Jenkins was under investigation for at least a year, officials said.
Federal law generally prohibits possession, transport or import of machine guns, except by government agencies.
An exception to the law allows licensed dealers, in some cases, to buy machine guns as a sample for demonstration to potential law enforcement or military purchasers if the agency requesting a demonstration sends a “law letter” to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to the indictment, Krop and Jenkins created five “law letters” on Frederick County Sheriff’s Office letterhead requesting machine guns for evaluation and demonstration to the department, though they knew that there would not be a demonstration and that the guns were intended for rental to Krop’s customers.
“It was the purpose of the conspiracy to acquire machineguns by means of fraud and materially false statements and representations and to rent those machine guns to private citizens in exchange for money,” the indictment states.
The Machine Gun Nest made more than $100,000 in profits from rental of machine guns in 2018 and 2019 alone, according to the indictment.
The indictment goes on to say that the law letters submitted the ATF “falsely stated” that machine guns were suitable for use as a law enforcement weapon, “when in fact at least one of the machineguns was not” — specifically a FN M249 SAW, which is a belt-fed machine gun, “suitable only for combat,” the indictment said.
The letters were drafted by Krop and signed by Jenkins between Aug. 25, 2015 and March 29, 2022, according to prosecutors. The March 29 letter requested that six Sig Sauer machine guns in the possession of the Havre de Grace Police Department be transferred to the business for the purpose of a demonstration.
Sheriff’s Office responds
Around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Todd Wivell appeared at a podium at the county’s Law Enforcement Center and said he had been asked to read the following statement from Jenkins:
“I have been in constant communication with the DOJ and the ATF for over a year and have been 100% cooperative throughout the course of this investigation. At the advice of my attorney and out of respect for the justice process, I am not providing any comment at this time. I will continue to serve as your sheriff as this process plays out and fully expect my deputies, correctional officers and staff to remain the true professionals that they are.”
Wivell said Jenkins would not take administrative leave or resign in light of the indictment.
“Sheriff Jenkins is still our acting sheriff. He is still the sheriff of Frederick County,” Wivell said.
“He will still keep an open-door policy, he will still talk. He has been advised by his counsel to not talk about this situation at all, but if someone in Frederick County has an incident or situation that they need to talk to him about that involves law enforcement, he will 100% do that.”
Asked whether its standard practice for the department to allow a deputy to stay on active duty while charged with a crime, Wivell said “every situation is different. And because the indictment just came out today, the sheriff is still going to remain in that role.”
“He believes in a justice process and he wants to see how it plays out,” Wivell said.
Asked whether Jenkins was expecting the indictment, Wivell responded: “Absolutely not. He’s been fully cooperative with DOJ and the ATF the entire time. We had no knowledge that this was happening today until the press release came out.”
There were no searches executed at the sheriff’s office or his home before the indictment, Wivell said. And while the sheriff knew there was an investigation ongoing “for at least a year,” Wivell said the indictment was a surprise to others in the 194-officer department.
Wivell said Wednesday that an initial court appearance by Jenkins is anticipated next week. An initial appearance for Krop is scheduled in U.S. District Court on April 13.
Jenkins is being represented by a privately funded attorney, though Wivell said the attorney’s name would not be made public until it’s entered in court records.
“That attorney has asked that we do not release their name at this time and that we wait until his appearance,” Wivell said.
A message left for Krop at the Machine Gun Nest was not immediately returned and court records did not list an attorney representing him.
The indictment was announced Wednesday afternoon by U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron and Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the ATF’s Baltimore Field Division.
If convicted, Jenkins and Krop face a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy, for false statements in records maintained by a federal firearms licensee and for false statements to federal law enforcement.
Krop is also charged with illegal possession of seven machine guns. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison for that charge.
The indictment also alleges that Krop’s business, which has hosted several Republican meetings and fundraisers in the county, offered political support to Jenkins in recognition of his support for the business.
The indictment includes copies of emails, including one from the company’s chief operating officer, who is unnamed, that expresses support for Jenkins’ election:
“I am reaching out in hopes to set up a meeting with you to discuss the upcoming election cycle and talk about what we can do to support your re-election as Sheriff in Frederick. We have appreciated everything that you have done for the city of Frederick as well as you support for the second amendment and our business.”
Jenkins, who has held office since 2006, has a national profile for his support of former President Donald Trump and hard-line stances on immigration and other conservative issues.
He was most recently elected in November, winning the general election with 51.35% of the vote over Democrat Karl Bickel, a former Justice Department and Sheriff’s Office official.
“I wish I would have known about [the investigation] before November,” Bickel said in a brief phone interview Wednesday. He noted that there’s still a presumption of innocence when charges are pending.
If Jenkins were to leave office before the end of his current term, Gov. Wes Moore (D) would pick his replacement, according to the Maryland Constitution.
This breaking news article was updated with more details at 8:06 p.m.