Jurors found an Orange Park business owner guilty on all counts in a federal trial about marketing thousands of illegal machine-gun conversion devices through a web-based company advertising on YouTube.
A Wisconsin gun dealer whose gun-centered YouTube channel has 180,000 subscribers was convicted of conspiracy with Auto Key Card owner Kristopher “Justin” Ervin as well as four counts of transferring the unregistered devices.
Gun dealer Matthew Hoover, known to many gun enthusiuast through his CRS Firearms channel, was taken into custody by U.S. marshals after the verdict was returned Friday. Ervin has been behind bars since his arrest in 2021.
Hoover had been allowed to remain free before the trial and had continued posting YouTube installments, some about his own case.
His attorneys asked to continue that or to let him surrender to marshals in Wisconsin. But U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard said custody was the default for someone convicted of multiple felonies and declined to make an exception after a hearing where prosecutors raised concerns about safety of trial witnesses and prosecutors, citing hostile comments by visitors to Hoover’s YouTube site.
Sentencing was tentatively scheduled for July 31.
Ervin sold card-shaped strips of stainless steel etched with patterns for equipment colloquially called a “lightning link” that can convert a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle into a fully automatic machine gun that fires round upon round from a single trigger-pull.
Although a buyer would have to follow the etched lines with a cutting tool, prosecutors argued the cards qualified as conversion devices, which the federal government treats like machine guns that have to be registered and regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934.
“Where is the line? That’s really a question you all will have to face,” Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor told jurors Thursday afternoon, shortly before eight women and four men began deliberating.
Defense attorneys argued the firearms law doesn’t cover their clients because it doesn’t restrict items that could potentially be made into conversion devices but haven’t been yet.
“As long as you do not cut it out … you have not broken the law,” Ervin’s lawyer, Alex King, told the same jury earlier in the afternoon.
The trial included testimony from some Auto Key Card clients who said they had not cut the cards they bought but wanted them on hand in case of dystopian emergencies like a breakdown in social order.
A 12-count indictment finalized last month charged the men with conspiracy and seven counts of illegally distributing unregistered machine-gun conversion devices, as well as three counts for Ervin of possession of unregistered devices and a single banking charge of structuring financial transactions to avoid triggering attention to the account that handled Auto Key Card sales and expenses.
Ervin was first charged in 2021 and Hoover was added as a defendant last year, as prosecutors substituted in new indictments to describe the teamwork that developed between the men.
Where Ervin struggled to find customers when he began selling Auto Key Cards in 2020, sales surged dramatically when he began sponsoring installments of Hoover’s CRS Firearms YouTube channel. King told jurors the company’s records reflected “somewhere between 900 and 3,000 people” getting Auto Key Cards.
During the trial, prosecutors highlighted email between Ervin and the woman who is now Hoover’s wife, whom Ervin told “your man is one hell of a salesman.”
On his channel, Hoover praised the cards, priced from around $40 for one version to more than $180 for one with multiple designs that were billed as being items like pen holders and bottle openers. He also often criticized the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which enforces the firearms act, and expressed concerns about excessive regulation of guns.
Auto Key Cards “are awesome because they’re stupid cheap,” he said in one segment. “You could drop it in your rifle or, you know, if you’re actually gonna do this legally, this is just a bottle opener.
“What this is, is a novelty,” he continued. “So if someone sees it, they’re like, ‘hey, what is this?’ You explain to them that because laws are so ridiculous and so out of control, if I were to cut on these lines, I would become a felon. How ridiculous is that? It’s just a conversation starter.”
Attorneys for both defendants said they're planning appeals.
One of Hoover's attorneys, Matthew Larosiere, said part of the appeal is likely to involve issues raised by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n, Inc. v. Bruen, a case where the justices said regulations that didn't violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution needed a "historical tradition of firearm regulation."
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Clay County man, YouTube celeb convicted in machine-gun converter trial