A prosecutor told a federal court in Chicago there's a little-known "subculture" of thieves who regularly rob trains in the nation's busiest rail hub. A judge said criminals prize new guns because they're hard to trace, and that their theft contributed to "an epidemic of violence" in Chicago.
CHICAGO (AP) — A suburban Chicago mother of seven is accused of urging Facebook followers to kill a gang member-turned-FBI mole for his role in a sting that put an associate of hers behind bars on charges he tried to sell semi-automatic rifles stolen from a freight train, court documents show.
Iesha Stanciel, 38, faces federal cyberstalking charges for the threats, as well as a gun charge after she was arrested carrying a bag containing one of the brand new AR 15-type assault rifles stolen from the Chicago train that had stopped overnight at a Norfolk Southern yard on Sept. 18, 2016, according to a federal complaint examined by The Associated Press this week.
Authorities have never publicly announced any arrests related to the theft of the six new Smith & Wesson-made M&P assault rifles and 27 pistols despite Stanciel’s indictment in May and the arrest in October 2016 of Brian Stafford, who allegedly told the informant he had the rifles just two days after the train theft.
That 2016 theft angered residents near the South Side rail yard because it came a year after the theft of 104 Sturm, Ruger & Co. guns, which quickly fell into the hands of gangs. After the 2015 heist, aldermen sought assurances from Norfolk Southern that such thefts wouldn’t happen again.
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At a sentencing hearing last week in that 2015 case, Judge John Tharp said criminals prize new guns because they’re hard to trace and he said their theft contributed to “an epidemic of violence” in Chicago. A prosecutor told the court there’s a little-known “subculture” of thieves who regularly rob trains in the nation’s busiest rail hub.
It was Stafford’s arrest that led Stanciel, just days later, to start posting the Facebook threats that included the informant’s name, court papers said.
“Snitches get stitches and found in ditches,” one posting allegedly said, followed by 11 handgun emojis. Agents say that was an invitation to kill the informant.
Another emoji-laden message included the informant’s photo and asked if anyone ever sees him, then adds: “If so (shoot) his head….”
The postings were fantasies, not serious threats, Stanciel said in a July letter to a federal judge asking to be released from jail pending trial.
Facebook is “a cyber fantasy community where you can live out any fantasy with no real means or intent of carrying anything out,” she wrote. She conceded that she had “a bad attitude” but wrote that she is “less dangerous than it looks.” The judge denied her request, deeming her potentially dangerous.
Filings aren’t clear about whether Stafford or Stanciel, both of whom have previous criminal records, played a direct role in the 2016 theft. The guns had been loaded in Atlantic City, New Jersey, two days before the train stopped in Chicago. The thieves also made off with several TVs.
The filings describe Stanciel and Stafford as “associates” but don’t offer details. Stanciel, of Aurora, and Stafford, from the Chicago suburb of Bellwood, have both pleaded not guilty. Stafford faces gun possession charges.
The informant, working with the FBI, agreed to pay Stafford $4,000 for the three rifles, court filings said. The informant wore audio and video devices during the exchange of the money and guns at Stafford’s home on Oct. 23 last year, and Stafford was arrested later that day.
In one call from jail cited by prosecutors, Stafford said he’d heard “all the recordings (that) dude did” during his trial preparation. He added the informant’s performance in the sting was worth an “Academy Award.”
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm