Federal agents arrested a maintenance man yesterday on charges of operating a bustling gun-running business out of the boiler room of a building that is home to the state's Department of Probation and Parole.
Thomas Earl Earp, 52, could face up to 45 years in prison if convicted of the federal charges, which include the sale of a sawed-off shotgun to agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
In all, ATF agents say, Mr. Earp sold them 46 firearms and they found 102 weapons at his Middle River home on Douglas Road. Mr. Earp is charged with selling the firearms without a license, and some weapons allegedly sold are banned by the federal government.
"We believe this arrest will have an impact on the illegal trade of firearms in Baltimore," said M. Stewart Allen, special agent in charge of ATF's office in Maryland and Delaware.
The case unfolded last summer, when ATF agents received a tip that a man named Tom was peddling guns from the boiler room of the probation and parole offices at 2100 Guilford Ave. in Baltimore. Posing as felons looking for guns, the agents arranged a series of meetings and began buying weapons, according to court records.
Agents say they met on numerous occasions with Mr. Earp in his office in the boiler room. Mr. Earp works for the Department of General Services, which maintains the probation and parole offices.
"The Department of General Services and the state stand ready to cooperate fully," department spokesman Dave Humphrey said last night.
Mr. Earp told the agents he considered Tennessee his true home, despite his having lived in Maryland and worked for the state since 1975, according to court records.
In November, the agents trailed Mr. Earp to the Viking Hall Gun Show in Bristol, Tenn., where, they said, he purchased pistols.
"This is significant case, particularly when you're dealing with that number of guns," said U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia, whose office is prosecuting the case.
"Right now, our focus is to get as many guns as we can off the streets of Baltimore."
Pub Date: 3/19/96