Nate Driggers rose from a difficult childhood to play professional basketball for the Boston Celtics — achieving success that “millions of people would envy,” a federal judge said.

But Thursday, Driggers wore orange as that judge sentenced him to eight years in prison for his role in the trafficking of more than 100 Ruger firearms worth a combined $50,000. The guns were stolen from a freight train parked in a South Side rail yard in April 2015, and the feds say one was later found in Driggers’ unmarked store at 127th and Halsted.

U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp handed down the significant sentence after finding credible evidence that Driggers, 44, had purchased 30 of the stolen Rugers. A jury convicted Driggers in April of being a convicted felon in possession of stolen guns.

The feds say Driggers paid $8,000 for the firearms and then decided to “throw gasoline” on the violence plaguing his own community by re-selling them. Still, when Driggers had a chance to address the judge, he maintained his innocence.

“I never put a gun in anybody’s hand,” Driggers said. “I never purchased a gun.”

Driggers was a Corliss High School standout who played 15 games for the Boston Celtics during the 1996-97 season. He has also been convicted in the past for drug dealing and selling counterfeit goods. On Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Parente asked Tharp to give Driggers a 10-year prison sentence.

Tharp made clear he didn’t buy Driggers’ claims of innocence. However, the judge credited him for his actions during an incident at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, about which the lawyers have spoke very carefully. Driggers’ attorney, William Murphy, only told the judge his client had come to the aid of a counselor while in custody at the jail.

After court, Murphy also said the employee had been assaulted.

Regardless, Tharp noted that Driggers “didn’t turn away, and I credit him for that.”


Gangs reap guns from trains in violent Chicago neighborhoods, March 5, 2017

• Dick Durbin says railway must do more to prevent gun thefts, March 15, 2017

• Chicago aldermen want railroad to stop gun thefts, May 2, 2017