A convicted felon who illegally sold firearms with his wife out of their combined beauty salon-gun shop in Augusta was sentenced Monday to five years in prison after a federal judge said the man needed to think about the consequences of selling unregistered guns in their community – and everybody else’s.
U.S. District Judge Monti Belot also ordered federal marshals to immediately take Jeffrey Eberhart into custody to begin serving his sentence for selling firearms without license. His wife, Tracey, got three years of probation with six months of home detention. She pleaded guilty to failure to keep required sales records.
“I have nothing against firearms – it is the illegal dealing in firearms,” Belot said, noting he himself is a gun owner.
The charges stem from sales between 2009 and August 2012 at an Augusta shop called Dream Weavers Salon and Sporting Goods.
Many of the more than 40 people who had packed the federal courtroom in a show of support for the Augusta couple left crying and hugging each other after the hearing.
Tracey Eberhart told the judge her goal was to empower women so they would not be victims of crime, but she got overwhelmed with the business. Saying they weren’t bad people, she tearfully begged for forgiveness.
“The thought of being separated from my husband, my son and my community is unbearable,” she said between sobs.
Prosecutors say she obtained a federal firearms dealers license, but omitted on the application the name of her husband, a convicted felon.
While the home detention Belot ordered for the wife was more than either prosecutors or the defense had recommended, he stopped short of sending Tracey Eberhart to prison. He credited a letter from her son in part for his decision. He also said she was “to some extent a credit to the community” and he didn’t see a reason to take someone’s business away from them.
But Belot reserved his most scathing criticism for her husband, sending him to prison for five years as recommended in his plea agreement. Belot called it a fair sentence.
The judge even chided people who had shown up on his behalf, saying anybody who was in the courtroom for him could leave because he was getting the maximum sentence.
“This is a serious crime,” Belot said. “You can’t realize how serious a problem it is with the unregistered, illegal gun trade.”
Jeffrey Eberhart told the judge he was naive and had thought his felony conviction happened so long ago that it wouldn’t matter. He said he did background checks on people who bought guns from the shop, although he acknowledged “not perfectly.”
“I felt I was doing an honest business,” he said. “We were trying to do it right.”
Belot told him he found it hard to believe that he did not know what he was doing was illegal.
“I was afraid of it,” Jeffrey Eberhart said. “But I didn’t realize the ramifications of how serious it was. … It’s just stupid, stupid, stupid.”