WEST MICHIGAN — A string of gun store break-ins throughout West Michigan keeping federal agents racing to get these weapons off the street and criminals behind bars.
“When these guns hit the street it’s very difficult, via time, the clock is ticking,” an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.
The organization rarely opens up about its investigations but sat down with FOX 17 for an exclusive interview.
In a world where stolen guns are seen as dangerous currency on the streets, local police and federal agents don’t have much time to keep these weapons out of the hands of the wrong people.
“It was kind of a Bonnie and Clyde thing in this instance,” the agent says.
In the overnight hours of Dec. 8, 2018, a couple broke into Graafschap Hardware Store in Allegan County. Although the store had a security system, it didn't work that night.
“They had run cables through the trigger guards of all the firearms to try to secure them and Marroquin and Zimmerman were able to defeat that by cutting the cables,” the agent said.
That allowed the couple, Matteo Marroquin and Lacy Zimmerman, to make off with nearly two dozen guns.
The duo, in their early 20’s, was addicted to meth and doing whatever they could to feed that addiction.
“It’s not surprising that that would motivate them, you know firearms are a commodity on the street, you know, two criminals, and if you’re trying to get drugs it’s one way other than a cash purchase. you can trade firearms for narcotics and get large amounts sometimes,” the agent said.
Deputies quickly involve federal agents and within a matter of hours, and the hunt to get 22 guns out of the hands of some very dangerous people began.
Agents say because of the location of Graafsschap’s, they quickly determined the guns would likely end up in the Holland area and just hours after the crime agents arrested 23-year-old Andrew Leenheer.
He confessed he’d been selling the couple meth and got two stolen guns out of the deal. Two days later, the manhunt took agents up to Lake County where an unexpected break happened.
“We were up there, we were checking specific addresses that we had connected to her, specifically. And going from one spot to the next, we did need a coffee refill and there’s a gas station at M-55 and M-37,” the agent said.
“As we’re pulling in, I’m the passenger and my partner is driving and I look to my right and there’s the car,” the agent said. “We pulled up next to him and I stepped out of our vehicle and I said, ‘Matteo’ and he took off running."
After a brief foot chase agents arrested both 22-year-olds and found what they were searching for inside the car.
“Ultimately, we located 20 of the stolen firearms in his vehicle along with some methamphetamine which is really what fueled this particular burglary,” the agent said.
All of which sat inches from the couple’s baby in the backseat who was not hurt. A victory for agents who, within just a matter of days, recovered all 22 of those stolen guns.
“We and our state and local partners work very hard. it’s a very high priority if not the highest priority to get these guns off the street as quickly as possible,” the agent said.
The couple was sentenced to 10 years in jail, despite numerous letters from Marroquin’s loved one who claim he’s always been a family man and loving father but let his drug addiction get the best of him.