Clad in an orange jail uniform with his feet shackled, gun trafficker Walter Freeman stood Wednesday before a federal judge and apologized to the community and his family for putting 80 guns on Chicago’s streets.
“I am truly sorry,” said the 36-year-old man from west suburban Lisle, whose attorneys sought a lenient sentence for him.
But U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman sent Freeman to prison for 16 years, agreeing with prosecutors about the gravity of his crimes. Of the 80 guns Freeman admitted selling to Chicago gang members since 1999, police have recovered only 20 of them.
“Any one of those guns you put on the street could have been used to kill Tyshawn, kill a 20-year-old model,” said Coleman, who later added: “Drugs and guns are why we have Spike Lee doing a movie like ‘Chiraq.’ ”
The judge was referring to 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee and 20-year-old Kaylyn Pryor, who were killed on Nov. 2 in separate shootings on the South Side.
Prosecutors didn’t present evidence that Freeman’s guns have been used in their murders or any others. But many of the guns were used in crimes, including the armed robbery of an Uber driver on April 24, the holdup of another man in 2012 and the shooting of a gang member in 2010, officials said.
The guns were originally part of a vast collection legally owned by a Joliet man. His son, Timothy Vana, stole 80 guns from the collection and traded them to Freeman for crack cocaine, officials say.
ATF, the Chicago Police Department, the Illinois State Police and the Cook County Sheriff’s office investigated the trafficking scheme.
Forty of the guns were dealt to Freeman between 1999 and 2001 before Vana went to prison for stealing the guns from his father. When he got out, Vana traded another 40 stolen guns to Freeman from 2010 to 2012.
Freeman sold the guns to high-level Gangster Disciples members in Chicago for $300 apiece. He was busted in 2012 when he provided guns to an undercover ATF agent in exchange for drugs.
Freeman and Vana have pleaded guilty to their roles in the scheme. Vana, 54, is awaiting sentencing.
In court, Freeman’s attorneys painted a portrait of him as a small-time drug dealer who was trying to provide for his family by selling crack cocaine and marijuana. Just before his arrest, he was working for Caterpillar to turn his life around and overcome his depression and drug addiction, one of his lawyers said.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennie Levin pointed out that Freeman brought his two young children with him during one of his 2012 drug deals with an undercover ATF agent.
“This love for family was pushed aside,” she said as Freeman’s mother listened intently in the courtroom. “He was selling guns and drugs out of his parent’s house.”
Of the 20 guns recovered by police — like the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson used in the robbery of the 29-year-old Uber driver — the ATF used serial numbers to trace them to the collection owned by Vana’s father.
The 60 other guns still on the street are “ticking time bombs,” Levin said.
“This case illustrates how guns diverted to the black market and trafficked to criminals will continue to be recovered in violent crimes for years to come and have far-reaching effects well beyond the court proceedings,” said Tom Ahern, a spokesman for the ATF.