BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Two men are facing federal charges in the theft of more than 120 handguns from a sporting goods store near Benton Harbor, which was carried out after the store manager was kidnapped from home and forced to participate, court records show.
The theft was carried out on the evening of Nov. 16 after the Dunham’s manager was abducted at gunpoint outside his home, court records show.
“At 2 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 17, the Benton Township Police Department received a 911 call from the store manager of Dunham’s Sports,” U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten said Tuesday at a news conference. “He told the police that at approximately 9:55 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, two unknown people approached him outside his Benton Harbor home, held him at gunpoint and blindfolded, handcuffed and placed him in the back of his own car. The defendants then drove the manager to an unknown area and then threatened the manager with a gun to his head until the manager disclosed the passcode for the security system at the sports store and told them how to access it.”
One suspect stayed to hold the manager, while the other left, Totten said. According to surveillance footage, a man entered Dunham’s at around 10:40 p.m. that night, disabled the alarm system, filled Yeti coolers with handguns and left with them.
In total, Totten said, 123 handguns were missing.
“I would say this was about every handgun they had in the store,” Detective Sgt. Tyler Tiefenbach with the Benton Township Police Department said.
Law enforcement moved “swiftly but carefully” in the investigation, according to Totten.
He said one suspect allegedly used CashApp to try to send money from the manager’s card to another account.
“The attempt helped lead authorities to Dontrell Nance,” Totten said. “This lead allowed law enforcement to begin surveillance of Nance at his place of residence. Investigators observed Nance with another male, who they identified as Darnell Bishop, Nance’s brother.”
Then, investigators saw the two, along with an unknown third person, standing near a vehicle with two coolers “appearing consistent with the stolen blue Yeti coolers.”
The day after the Nov. 16 abduction and theft, investigators recovered the stolen firearms. One cooler stuffed with stolen firearms was found inside a vehicle, the other gun-filled cooler was located at a home, according to the criminal complaint.
“Inside the coolers were a total of 120 firearms, most of the handguns had trigger guard security locks still attached,’’ according to a criminal complaint. “Two additional firearms stolen from Dunham’s were found hidden’’ in the basement of a home.
Investigators “were able to locate all but one of the 123 stolen firearms,” Totten said.
Bishop and Nance are named in a criminal complaint that lists federal crimes that could put them in prison for decades.
“Both defendants in this case are charged with four federal crimes,” Totten said. He listed the following charges: robbery affecting interstate commerce, which carries a maximum of 20 years; brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence, which carries a mandatory minimum of seven years consecutive to any other sentence; theft of firearms from a federal firearms licensee; and knowingly possessing stolen firearms.
According to the criminal complaint, Nance told investigators he was part of the robbery, staying with the manager that night.
“Bishop also admitted that he was part of the robbery,” Totten said, citing the complaint. “He said he previously cased Dunham’s and followed the manager in preparation for the robbery. He said he pointed a gun at the manager during the robbery and subsequently took the guns from Dunham’s Sports.”
Totten said the allegations tie into “an epidemic of gun violence.”
“Fueling this epidemic is a massive influx of illegal guns into our communities,” he said. “What happened at Dunham’s Sports on the evening of Nov. 16 is a striking example of what is driving this crisis.”
Tiefenbach described the quick recovery of the guns as a “huge success.”
“Had these guns gotten out into the streets, it would have been very detrimental,” Tiefenbach said.
“These are easily sold on the streets,” Jim Deir, special agent in charge for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Detroit, said. “There’s a whole litany of folks who can’t buy these legally, so there is a black market out there. … In investigations like this, (in) my experience, these were headed to the streets.”
At Tuesday’s news conference, several people praised the teamwork displayed during the investigation.
“It was phenomenal to see state, federal, local all join together with their resources and go after a common good, common problem here,” Deir said.
Deir said ATF would direct all its resources toward investigating similar cases.
“There’s over $100,000 worth of guns here,” he said. “While tempting this may be for criminals, you can bet that our partnerships with the Michigan State Police, the FBI, the Benton Township Police Department will bring certain consequences to people. They will be swift, certain and severe in cases like this.”
— News 8’s David Horak contributed to this report.