ST. LOUIS ( -- According to people interviewed by federal agents, Piazza Jewelry and Pawn was well known on the streets of St. Louis as the place to go to buy guns illegally.

Police tracked close to 170 guns used in crimes over eight months last year, and all of them traced right back to Piazza.

Charges filed in federal court allege Piazza employees Carlos Jones, Robert Thornton and Steven Johnson all helped guns end up in the wrong hands.

Federal prosecutors said crimes committed with guns purchased at Piazza link back to murders, shootings, and robberies.

“This office is not just focused on trigger-pullers,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Rea. “What these charges make clear is that we are equally concerned about individuals who are willing to play any role in putting firearms in the hands of people who have no business possessing them.”

And according to Rea, the statistics are alarming.

“When we see in four out of 10 individuals who previously purchased a firearm related to criminal activity choose Piazza Jewelry and Pawn as their supplier of firearms, that’s indicative of a problem,” he said.

Piazza is a large store. Facebook posts show their selection of guns, which have since been removed from the store.

Charging documents lay out the extensive investigation by a joint strike force for many months, utilizing undercover officers and even felons wearing wires.

In December, federal agents seized more than 900 guns in a raid. Ten of those guns had been reported stolen.

Charges say Jones, Thornton and Johnson either sold directly to felons or allowed what's known as a straw purchase where someone, many times a girlfriend or friend of a felon, walks in and buys a gun clearly intended for someone else.

When News 4 went to Piazza, the store manager would say only that the Texas owner would contact us.

Jeff Thayer, Resident Agent in Charge of the ATF couldn't speak directly to this case, but said generally, gun dealers know their responsibilities.

“They know the rules and regulations to get an FFL (Federal Firearms License), they know what needs to be done to transfer a firearm,” Thayer said.

Friday was just the announcement of charges against the employees. Their cases will move forward in federal court.

When asked if there will be any action against the owners of the shop, prosecutors would only say the investigation is very much ongoing.

“If you purchased a firearm from Piazza, we highly recommend you contact that joint strike force before they contact you,” said Rea.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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