As soon as Daniel Lucas turned 21, investigators say, he drove to Lancaster County and bought four guns. That purchase of four identical Taurus 9mm handguns, was perfectly legal: He had no criminal record, and he had reached the minimum age to buy such weapons in Pennsylvania.
The West Philadelphia native then spent the next three months putting 1,700 miles on his white Ford Fusion, traveling as far as Schuylkill County to buy a total of 36 handguns in what Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele described as a sophisticated gun-trafficking scheme.
Of those firearms, Steele said, only one has been recovered: A Smith & Wesson 9mm that Philadelphia police took from a juvenile last month. It was registered to Lucas.
“Thirty-five guns are still in the hands of criminals, and that should concern everyone in Philadelphia, everyone in Montgomery County, and everyone who lives in Southeastern Pennsylvania,” Steele said. “Straw purchasing is a real problem for anyone who cares about saving lives.”
Lucas was arrested Monday and charged with multiple felonies, including racketeering, unlawful transfer of a firearm, and criminal use of a communication facility. He remained in custody Tuesday in lieu of $1 million bail. There was no indication he had hired an attorney.
Steele’s office began its investigation in September, when a routine scan of gun-purchasing records revealed Lucas' surprising number of transactions, which the prosecutor said bore the “hallmark signs of straw purchasing.”
Traveling from his home on Irving Street, Lucas visited gun shops in eight Pennsylvania counties: Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Schuylkill, and Lancaster, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest. He patronized small, family-run businesses, as well as the Cabela’s in Hamburg, Berks County, a 250,000-square-foot big-box store that specializes in hunting, fishing, and camping equipment.
The frequency of his purchases was a red flag, according to Steele. In one week, Lucas bought 14 handguns, on some days making multiple purchases at different stores.
Lucas' final visit to a gun store was on Sept. 28, when he was turned away from King’s Shooter Supply in King of Prussia as he tried to buy a Glock 9mm, the affidavit said. A clerk at the store later told county detectives Lucas had entered the store with another man, who asked about extended magazines for the handgun. The clerk denied the purchase because of a warning in the Pennsylvania State Police’s online database saying Lucas’ driver’s license was invalid.
Investigators finally caught up with Lucas on Oct. 21, when he was arrested in connection with a burglary of student housing at West Chester University, the affidavit said. He was not carrying a gun at the time, and detectives did not find any guns during a search of his home in West Philadelphia. Lucas, according to Steele, never reported any of the guns he purchased as stolen, and investigators believe he sold them illegally on the street.
“They’re out there in the hands of someone who wasn’t allowed to buy them themselves," Steele said, "someone who couldn’t travel 180 miles to buy a gun.”