Longtime Frederick Co. sheriff indicted on conspiracy charges in machine gun scheme

The longtime sheriff of Frederick County, Maryland, as well as the owner of a shooting range in the county, have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and making false statements in what prosecutors say was a scheme to illegally acquire machine guns.

The indictments were announced in a news release Wednesday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

Charles Austin “Chuck” Jenkins, 66, has served as the county’s sheriff since 2006. Prosecutors say he conspired with Robert Justin Krop, 36, the owner of the The Machine Gun Nest shooting range in Frederick to falsify documents in order to buy machine guns for Krop’s business.

At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, sheriff’s office spokesman Todd Wivell said Jenkins had no plans to step down as sheriff and read a brief statement on behalf of the sheriff.

“I have been in constant contact with the DOJ and the ATF for over a year and have been 100% cooperative throughout the course of this investigation,” the sheriff’s statement said. “At the advice of my attorney and out of respect for the justice process, I am not providing any comment at this time.”

The sheriff did not appear at the news conference.

Between August 2015 and May 2022, prosecutors said the sheriff — at Krop’s request — wrote bogus letters on Frederick County Sheriff’s Office letterhead to gun dealers and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives falsely claiming the machine guns were to be used for demonstration and evaluation purposes for the sheriff’s office.

However, the guns were actually used as rentals for customers of Krop’s business, prosecutors say.

The so-called “law letters” signed by Jenkins are supposed to explain the need for a particular model of firearm or an interest in seeing a demonstration for potential future use by law enforcement agencies for use in their official duties.

Some of the letters signed by Jenkins claimed the guns being sought were “particularly suitable for use” by law enforcement officers in day-to-day patrol when, in fact, at least one of them was a belt-fed machine gun suitable only for combat, according to the indictment.

Overall, The Machine Gun Nest made more than $100,000 in profits renting out machine guns in 2018 and 2019, according to the indictment.

Krop has also been charged with illegal possession of machine guns.

As part of the alleged scheme, Krop’s business offered political support to the sheriff, according to prosecutors.

In May 2022, an official at The Machine Gun Nest emailed Jenkins asking to set up a meeting to discuss the election and “talk about what we can do to support your re-election as sheriff in Frederick,” according to the email included in the indictment.

If convicted, Jenkins and Krop face a maximum of five years in prison for the conspiracy and false statements charges. Krop also faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on the machine gun possession charges. A court appearance has not yet been scheduled.

Krop could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jenkins, a Republican, was reelected last November, becoming the county’s first five-term sheriff, according to the Frederick News-Post.

Wivell, the sheriff’s office spokesman said the sheriff had no indication the indictment was coming and that the office only learned of the grand jury’s indictment about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, which was around the time U.S. attorney’s office’s sent out a news release about the indictments.

When asked by reporters why the sheriff was remaining in his post when sheriff’s deputies who are charged with crimes have been placed on administrative leave or light duty, the spokesman responded, “He feels he can still support the role of sheriff for Frederick County. We all as an agency believe in him. There are a lot of people in this county who believe in him, as well … He believes in the justice process and that he wants to see how it plays out.”

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Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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