Minnesota couple pleads guilty to straw purchasing 97 guns

A Minnesota couple has pleaded guilty to federal firearms charges after "straw purchasing" close to 100 guns, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Sarah Jean Elwood, 34, and Jeffrey Paul Jackson, 31, pleaded guilty to one count each of aiding and abetting false statements in connection with the purchase of firearms. They were indicted in June on five separate charges but entered a plea deal on Tuesday to have four of the charges dismissed.

Elwood had a vehicle registered to a Crystal address and was Jackson’s fiancée, the indictment states.

Another co-defendant, Geryiell Lamont Walker, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements in connection with the purchase of firearms

An affidavit alleges Elwood and Jackson conspired to buy a total of 97 firearms — including 62 in May 2021 alone — on behalf of others, misrepresenting their intentions to federally licensed firearms dealers. They arranged to resell the guns and charged a $100 fee on top of the value of each gun they purchased. These "straw purchases" allowed them to get around the national background check system for people who are barred from having guns.

To date, law enforcement officers have recovered 17 of the straw purchased guns, either at crime scenes or in the possession of people who are prohibited from having firearms, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

The couple’s gun buying spree in May of this year came to an end after Elwood purchased three firearms along with ammunition and a high-capacity magazine at Bill’s Gun Shop in Circle Pines.

John Monson, the store’s owner, says his business worked with ATF agents who later arrested Elwood, Jackson, and Walker.

"We handed them a silver bullet," Monson said. "Our participation allowed them to be there right on the scene, right at the time. It was a slam dunk case."

Erica MacDonald, the former U.S. Attorney in Minnesota, says straw purchasing cases can be difficult to prosecute. She says criminals with records that prohibit them from buying guns often prey upon those in desperate circumstances to act as straw purchasers.

"Typically the individual who is the straw purchaser has sympathy on their side when it comes to sentencing," MacDonald said. "It’s an individual who doesn’t have a criminal history, who likely has been taken advantage of by a male of some sort in their life."

Elwood and Jackson face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Now more people, including Monson and MacDonald, are calling on the courts to hold straw purchasers accountable with stiffer sentences.

"This is not a crime of passion, this isn’t a crime of response, this is a calculated crime," MacDonald said. "So until those sentences speak, we’re still going to have an issue on our hands."

The Blaine Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spearheaded the investigation.