Emmit Bethea's 1Timme Enforcement Agency was in the business of providing armed security guards to bars and other retail businesses.
1Timme's Web site boasts of the pre-employment screening and training of its "enforcement agents," closing with a quote from Bethea: "With 12 years of experience you can count on our professionalism and dedication."
What you could not count on, alleges the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, was that Bethea was licensed and legally allowed to buy his agents firearms.
Yesterday, Bethea, 33, of Camden, became among the first arrested under a new effort by the city's Gun Violence Task Force to curtail trafficking in illegal firearms: charging people who lie on applications for permits to carry guns.
Authorities allege that Bethea falsified gun purchase forms to buy 10 handguns in Philadelphia and adjoining counties, purportedly for his agents. Trouble was that 1Timme, on North Ninth Street in Hunting Park, though incorporated in 2003, had been denied a private detective license.
Bethea was arrested Aug. 17 and charged with illegal transfer of firearms, tampering with public records, unsworn falsification to authorities, and violation of the Private Detective Act.
Bethea is in custody with bail set at $50,000. His attorney, W. Fred Harrison Jr., could not be reached for comment.
"This is a multifaceted problem," Abraham said at a news conference yesterday. She described the problem as "like an amoeba that, when you block its path, it throws a foot in another direction."
Lying on an application to buy a firearm, or an application to carry a gun, has always been illegal under Pennsylvania law. The problem, explained Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn, was that the application used by the Police Department made it difficult to determine if the applicant was lying to illegally obtain a gun or was just confused by terminology.
Without proving criminal intent, Blackburn said, the odds of a successful prosecution were slim.
That changed Aug. 1 with a new application that Blackburn said asks more specifically worded questions to make it tougher for an applicant to lie and then claim confusion.
Blackburn said the new application was made possible after the Pennsylvania State Police agreed to tell city police why the agency had denied permission to buy a gun after a criminal background check.
Previously, Blackburn said, police were told only that an applicant failed the state police background check.
Abraham said her staff and police were scrutinizing other provisions of the state Uniform Firearms Act to ensure it is geared to "how the real world operates."
Yesterday's announcement was the latest initiative of the city's Gun Violence Task Force, a special unit created in December 2006 to reduce illegal gun trafficking around the city and thus the number of homicides, which that year topped 400.
As of yesterday, Blackburn said, Philadelphia had 199 homicides this year, a 29 percent drop since 2007.
Since its inception, the task force has moved against "straw" purchasers - people who buy guns for felons who cannot legally possess them - and those who provide guns to juveniles.
Abraham said those who lie on a permit to carry a firearm can be charged with making unsworn falsifications to authorities, a misdemeanor, or in some cases as a person not to possess firearms, a felony punishable by up to a year in prison.
Since the task force began, Abraham said, it has opened 1,136 investigations involving the illegal transfer of firearms, made 346 arrests, and seized 673 guns.
"Straw" purchasers are now regularly being sentenced to prison terms of five to 10 years, Abraham added.