JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Clay County man accused of selling unregistered devices online that can convert semiautomatic firearms into machine guns pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court to a single-count indictment.
The not-guilty plea came hours after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for announced a federal indictment charging Kristopher Ervin, 41, of Orange Park, with possession of an unregistered machine gun conversion device. Ervin faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted of that charge and $250,000 in fines.
Ervin was ordered to remain in custody pending the outcome of an April status conference. A judge agreed with an argument from the government that Ervin, the brother of a Jacksonville police officer, was a danger to the public and posed a flight risk.
Ervin’s attorney is expected to file a motion for his client to bond out of jail while awaiting court proceedings in the case.
According to the Justice Department, Ervin was selling devices online known as auto-sears, which can be used to modify a semiautomatic gun and allow it to fire automatically using only a single pull of the trigger. The federal government said Ervin had the devices manufactured at a Jacksonville machine shop for $5 each and then sold them for up to $139 a piece.
These devices, which are also known as lightning links, are about the size of a credit card and sellers must register them with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The one-count indictment stems from a tip a federal agent received in January that Ervin was selling the devices online. The government said Ervin began this enterprise in November and sold more than 1,300 devices, making over $130,000.
According to the government, the selling point of the devices was obvious: buying a machine gun costs thousands of dollars, while buyers could pay $139 for a device capable of turning AR-15 style rifles into automatic weapons.
Federal agents bought items from Ervin’s website using postal money orders, with the proceeds being deposited into Ervin’s credit union account. An ATF expert was able to turn an AR-15 style rifle into an automatic firearm using one of the devices.
Agents conducting surveillance Feb. 22 watched as Ervin delivered 22 packages to an Orange Park post office. After obtaining search warrants, an inspector found the packages contained metal cards etched with an auto-sear design, according to court documents.
Ervin was taken into custody March 2 in Columbia County. Agents recovered $3,700, over 1,500 auto-sear devices, machinery that was used to manufacture the devices, guns, computers, and packaging materials. The ATF also seized multiple websites they said belonged to Ervin.
The ATF has been able to compile a partial customer list, including eight people with multiple purchases in the Jacksonville area, though it’s unclear where the tip that sparked the investigation originated.
In court Monday, prosecutors noted that at one point Ervin went to the machine shop that fabricated the devices to complain about their quality. Once the owner realized what the devices were, he cut ties and destroyed the rest of the inventory.