A Carroll County prosecutor will take on a new challenge this week in a state post dubbed Operation Crime Gun, pursuing gun cases across city and county lines for the Maryland attorney general's office.
Brian L. DeLeonardo, 31, of Baltimore will work with state's attorneys and police agencies including the state police Cease Fire unit in Columbia, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the city state's attorney's firearms unit, known as FIVE.
"There has been a problem when, for example, a gun shows up in a city crime, and the people selling it are in Baltimore County," said DeLeonardo, who, in effect, becomes the state's lone gun prosecutor. "That involves two different state's attorney's offices - but the attorney general can prosecute anywhere in the state."
For example, if a gun is sold illegally in Baltimore County to a city man, who then uses that weapon in the fatal shooting of a third man, DeLeonardo would prosecute the sellers of such guns. Such cases often fall through the cracks and never get prosecuted.
DeLeonardo said the idea for the position is to centralize all gun investigations, including illegal trafficking, straw purchases - having someone buy a gun illegally for a person - and lying under oath on ownership applications. The position may also involve some undercover work.
DeLeonardo was chosen from among 35 applicants for the position, which was created with a $93,000, one-year grant from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said Carolyn H. Henneman, chief of the attorney general's Criminal Investigations Division.
"We call it Operation Crime Gun - the whole idea is to work back from the gun," she said. "It's a natural niche for us to fill. Our office has, in anticipation of this grant, formed a partnership with the state police Cease Fire unit. They provide us with referrals around the state; they are the clearinghouse."
Killings prompt initiatives
The project is among several initiatives prompted by the 1999 case of Richard W. Spicknall II, a Laurel man who shot and killed his two young children on the Eastern Shore with a handgun he obtained despite a protective order that should have prevented the purchase.
"The purpose of all these rules and do's and don'ts is to keep the guns out of commerce, except where permitted and approved, so they don't get in the hands of the bad guys," she said. "We're focusing on the crime gun and the conduct that could set the stage for a gun getting into commerce and being used in a crime."
Henneman said many people lie on gun purchase forms, which are intended to keep handguns from people who have been convicted of serious crimes or are under protective orders, substance abusers and the mentally ill.
"We've seen hundreds and hundreds of people not qualified to get guns, like the convicted murderer who goes into a gun shop and lies to try to get a gun," she said.
The forms are completed under oath, and lying could bring a charge of perjury.
`One of our best'
DeLeonardo - who always wears suspenders, which he said is a good-luck tradition since his years on the winning debate team at Towson University, where he graduated in 1992 - first worked for Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes while in law school at the University of Baltimore in 1996.
After a year as a law clerk for a judge of the Court of Special Appeals, DeLeonardo joined the Carroll office full-time in spring 1997, beginning at the District Court level. He began specializing in gun and arson cases and moved up to Circuit Court. Barnes named him a senior prosecutor last month.
"He's one of our best trial attorneys," Barnes said. "We all wish him the best of luck, but we're sorry to see him leave."
"I love the place that I work [for], but this was an opportunity that I heard about and checked into," DeLeonardo said. "I will go pretty much all over the state - wherever the cases lead me. I'm excited about it."
Henneman said she expects the job to continue after the one-year grant expires because "it's something we've been wanting to do for a while."