Hempfield felon arrested in police sting on gun buy

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Authorities used a tip about a Facebook posting to set up a gun sale in a Greensburg parking lot and arrested an admitted convicted felon, according to court papers.

Matthew Scott Campbell, 26, of 150 Manchester Drive, Hempfield, on Monday posted on the social networking site, “Anybody have any guns for sale,” state police at Greensburg said.

Police used the tip to contact Campbell, then arranged to meet him on Wednesday afternoon in the Gander Mountain parking lot off Towne Square Drive.

Now he faces criminal charges.

“We're very fortunate that we did get the tip about something like this,” state police spokesman Trooper Steve Limani said on Friday.

During conversations with police, Campbell said that “he was a felon,” and the weapons he wanted would have to be reported stolen before he could buy them, state police said.

Under law, convicted felons are barred from owning guns.

In 2010, Campbell was sentenced to serve two to four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to felony drug charges, Westmoreland County court records show.

If a felon attempts to buy a gun from a licensed dealer, a background check should turn up his criminal record and prevent him from buying a weapon, said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA.

“If he's a convicted felon ... anytime he tried to buy he should be caught,” Goodman said.

“(A felon) would never pass a background check,” said Dave Workman, communications director for the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, based in Bellevue, Wash., and a spokesman for the Second Amendment Foundation. “NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) would catch him right away.”

Many criminals turn to private sellers for weapons because of background checks, Goodman said.

“I think it shows how we have to make it harder to do that,” she said.

She applauded the tipster and police for their diligence in following up on the information.

Police are turning to social networking sites more frequently to catch criminals, Greensburg police Chief Walter “Wally” Lyons said.

“By canvassing social networking pages of individuals, there's a lot of information that is gathered by law enforcement. It's a big benefit for policing,” Lyons said.

Citizens who give tips to police, such as the anonymous ones posted on Greensburg's city website, also help, Lyons said.

Workman said he had no problem with the state police tactics as long as troopers followed the law. No pro-gun group wants felons to have guns, he said.

“I think the overwhelming majority of (felons) who get guns have to do it through illicit means,” Workman said.

A person who lies on an application while trying to buy a gun can be charged with federal crimes, Lyons said.

“The firearms that Campbell specifically asked about were an AK-47, an AR-16 and a pistol,” a police affidavit states. A trooper working undercover forwarded pictures of an AK-47 assault rifle and a MAC 11 pistol to Campbell.

Campbell and troopers discussed an $800 price for both weapons, authorities said.

About 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Campbell got into the undercover trooper's vehicle outside Gander Mountain, discussed the purchase of firearms and was arrested, authorities said.

Police found $817 in a search of Campbell's vehicle.

He was arraigned on Wednesday night on several counts of criminal attempt, criminal solicitation and conspiracy, all involving weapons. He also faces a charge of criminal use of a communication facility.

Campbell was jailed on $25,000 bail. Police contacted state parole officials, who put a detainer on him.

He faces a preliminary hearing on Thursday before Greensburg District Judge James Albert.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 724-836-6622or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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