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Man who bought guns for teen in exchange for drugs gets to two to 14 years in prison

Luke D’Ercole’s decision last year to buy four handguns for a 16-year-old drug dealer turned his already drug-scarred life upside down.

Luke D'Ercole: Off to jail.
Luke D'Ercole: Off to jail.Read more

LUKE D'ERCOLE'S decision last year to buy four handguns for a 16-year-old drug dealer turned his already drug-scarred life upside down.

Within a week of getting the last gun, the young dealer - D'Ercole's girlfriend's son - shot a man during a petty dispute.

D'Ercole, beset by guilt, then attempted suicide by jumping from a third-story window at his parents' Northeast Philadelphia home.

After being released from the hospital, D'Ercole told authorities that he straw-purchased the guns for Michael Burak in exchange for heroin. He pleaded guilty in September.

Yesterday, Common Pleas Judge Earl W. Trent sentenced D'Ercole to two to 14 years in state prison for the straw purchases.

D'Ercole, 33, looked over his shoulder to tell his tearful parents, "I love you," before he was taken from the courtroom.

"It's heartbreaking," defense attorney Gina Capuano said after leaving the courtroom.

"I think he displayed from the beginning that he knew that the heroin was a problem, and as much as he tried to fight the addiction, he wasn't successful and he did this thing that he shouldn't have done in exchange for drugs."

Although Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock had asked that D'Ercole be sentenced to a minimum of seven years, he said he hoped the case would stop others from buying guns for those who cannot legally have them.

"Hopefully, this will turn into a message for other people that when you straw-purchase guns, you're going to go to jail for it," Wellbrock said.

Shira Goodman, executive director of the anti-gun-violence group CeaseFirePA, said she also hoped D'Ercole's sentence would bring more attention to the issue of straw purchasing.

"People do have a right to have guns for self-protection, but there are some people who have lost that right because of their criminal history, or because they are dangerously mentally ill or they're not old enough to have guns," she said. "We want to keep guns out of those hands."

Wellbrock noted that D'Ercole missed being sentenced to a mandatory-minimum five to 10 years in state prison by eight weeks under a new law that took effect Dec. 31, 2012.

The Brad Fox Law, named for a slain Plymouth Meeting police officer, requires that sentence for those convicted of straw purchasing more than one gun.

Detectives found that D'Ercole bought a 9 mm Glock, two .380-caliber handguns and a .22-caliber revolver for Burak, each on separate occasions, between Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, 2012.

Burak used the Glock to shoot Jonathan Espinoza, 20, on Oct. 28, 2012, on Van Kirk Street near Belden, in Oxford Circle, after the victim urinated in an alley too close to where Burak was selling drugs, Wellbrock said.

Espinoza survived a bullet to the shoulder and a graze wound to the head. Burak was convicted as an adult and sentenced to four to eight years in prison.