Chicago sues Indiana gun store, alleging weapons routinely wind up with gang members and felons

Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

CHICAGO — The city of Chicago on Monday sued a northwest Indiana gun store alleging it has sold hundreds of guns to straw buyers that wound up in the hands of felons or at crime scenes in the city, some within days of purchase.

The lawsuit filed in Cook County Chancery Court seeks a court order requiring Westforth Sports Inc., of Gary, to cease practices contributing to gun trafficking, as well as unspecified damages.

According to the suit, Westforth Sports, which is just 10 miles from the Chicago border, repeatedly broke federal gun laws in connection with dozens of sales, several of which resulted in federal criminal charges against alleged straw purchasers.

The family-owned shop, which has been in business for more than 50 years, was accused in the suit of ignoring many of the obvious signs of straw purchasing, including buyers making multiple purchases of the exact same model of gun, buying sprees over a short time period, large-volume purchases, cash payments and staggered visits to elude multiple-sale reporting requirements.

The store’s longtime owner, Earl Westforth, also ignored warnings from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about suspicious purchases at his store, despite remedial training on how to spot the signs of trafficking, according to the suit.

Asked about the suit at an unrelated event Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said research by the city and federal law enforcement partners has shown Westforth Sports is “selling thousands of crime guns every year.”

“The time for us to stop to ask them to do better and make sure they’re not selling to straw purchases, do what they’re required to do as a federally licensed gun dealer, is over,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve tried that. It hasn’t worked. So now we’re in litigation with them.”

Records show the store has indeed been on the city’s radar for years. According to the 2017 Gun Trace Report by the Chicago Police Department, Westforth Sports was the third-largest supplier of crime guns into Chicago, with 2.3% of all weapons recovered in the city between 2013 and 2016 having come from a sale there.

Westforth Sports had no immediate comment Monday.

The lawsuit, the first by the city against a specific gun store in more than two decades, was filed by Everytown Law, the litigation arm of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, along with the city’s Law Department and the firm Mayer Brown LLP.

According to the 42-page lawsuit, more than 40 federal criminal prosecutions for illegal gun purchases involving Westforth have been brought in the Northern District of Indiana since 2014.

One of the most egregious examples, according to the suit, is the case of Darryl Ivery Jr., 24, who was charged with federal gun offenses last year.

The lawsuit, citing court records, stated that Westforth sold Ivery a total of 19 handguns over 14 separate transactions between February and August 2020, including several visits where he purchased multiple firearms at a time.

The purchases that required Westforth to submit additional paperwork to ATF because of the close association between multiple sales and trafficking, according to the suit. Still, Westforth continued to sell to Ivery.

Meanwhile, the guns started turning up on Chicago’s streets. In one instance, a gun that Ivery bought was found at the scene of a shooting in Chicago just 22 days later, according to the suit. Others were found at crime scenes less than a week after Ivery purchased them. Many of them are still believed to be “in circulation” on the streets.

On Aug. 19, 2020, ATF agents interviewed Ivery in Calumet City. When asked about his firearms purchases, Ivery said he’d bought all but one of the guns “for individuals he had met and resided in Chicago,” according to the charges filed against Ivery last year.

“Ivery told law enforcement that these individuals asked him to buy firearms for them as he could do so easier as a resident of Indiana, and they paid him in cash for every purchase he made,” the charges stated.

Ivery is currently free on bail awaiting trial, records show.

Other examples cited in the lawsuit include a Taurus semi-automatic pistol purchased from Westforth Sports on Dec. 16, 2019, by Marqwan Blasingame.

Gary police recovered the pistol from a vehicle during a traffic stop the next day. The vehicle was stolen, and the Taurus was suspected to have been used in a homicide on Dec. 16, 2019 — the very day of Blasingame’s purchase, according to the suit.

Blasingame admitted to the ATF that he was straw purchasing weapons for others at Westforth Sports and other gun shops in Indiana, according to criminal charges filed against Blasingame last year. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, records show.

The lawsuit against Westforth Sports is the first civil action by the city since 1998, when then-Mayor Richard Daley announced it was suing 22 manufacturers and four distributors alleging they sold weapons “knowing that persons will illegally bring them into Chicago.”

A year later, criminal charges targeting straw purchasing were filed against the owners and employees of five area gun shops under an unusual federal investigation called Project Surefire.