The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office got new service weapons for its officers in 2020 in a trade with a local gun shop, but the county’s receipts for the deal appear to be missing.
The sheriff and the gun shop manager said the trade of about 70 old service weapons and confiscated guns for credit was above board and that they provided financial records at the time to the county administrator’s office, which handles finances. But the county administrator, who took the role in 2021 after the gun deal, couldn’t find them.
As a result, Oxford County Administrator Donald Durrah is writing up new rules for how the county purchases and disposes of its property, including specific steps for how to acquire and get rid of weapons.
“It’s not exactly how I would have liked it to happen, to be honest,” Durrah said. “I just had a hard time, as you’re having a hard time, putting it all together.”
Through a public records request in October, the Bangor Daily News asked Oxford County for financial records showing the firearms and ammunition the county has bought, sold and traded for since Jan. 1, 2019. Among other items, the county provided copies of about 30 checks it wrote for guns and related items over the last four years. But they do not reflect payment for all the weapons the sheriff’s office received.
That’s because J.T. Reid’s Gun Shop in Auburn took in guns from the sheriff’s office to mark up and sell in its store, said Jamie Pelletier, who manages the federally licensed gun shop. In return, the store paid gun distributors for service weapons and ammunition on the sheriff’s office behalf. No cash changed hands.
The sheriff’s office “ordered directly through a law enforcement wholesaler,” Pelletier said. “We just paid the bill, so there was no money out of Oxford County’s pocket.”
It’s important for police departments to keep organized and complete records of all transactions, especially guns, to avoid the appearance of impropriety, said one former police officer who teaches criminal justice. There are legal restrictions on how police dispose of firearms if they were used in a crime, so receipts confirm that what police say they did with the guns is what actually happened.
“It may not mean that there’s anything nefarious, but it certainly could. That’s the whole point of transparency,” said Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
At least one other state requires law enforcement agencies to retain receipts of the firearms it sells or trades for at least seven years. The Michigan law requires police in that state to provide the receipts during inspections and audits.
It is not unusual for law enforcement agencies to trade in aging service weapons for an allowance applied toward the purchase of new weapons. The Bangor Police Department, for example, negotiates an agreement with a licensed firearms distributor for this purpose, Chief Mark Hathaway said.
But it does appear to be uncommon for police to sell seized or unclaimed firearms. Most larger police departments destroy them to avoid putting them back on the street, according to a survey of 164 police agencies nationwide. Just 7 percent reported reselling them.
The Auburn gun shop was flexible on timing, took broken weapons and offered a better deal than large gun vendors, which gave him lower verbal quotes, Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said.
“Every firearm that was on our inventory was listed and transferred to [J.T. Reid’s], and everything that was purchased through this is in our inventory and came directly to us,” Wainwright said. “We went to great lengths to really stretch the dollar here. Reid saved us thousands of dollars.”
While the sheriff’s office provided lists of guns it said it traded through J.T. Reid’s — though they are unsigned and undated — the county could not find receipts from J.T. Reid’s or other financial records confirming the exchange. When Durrah received the BDN’s public records request, he asked the gun store manager to write up his recollection of what happened in 2020.
Pelletier obliged by writing two memos for the county describing the deal. He provided copies of two checks — out of an unknown total number of checks — the store wrote to a wholesaler that then sent guns to the sheriff’s office.
In his memos, Pelletier wrote that the store received from the sheriff’s office 20 miscellaneous AR-15’s, 34 Sig Sauer P229 handguns and 16 firearms that originated with the Dixfield Police Department, for which the sheriff’s office had taken over duties when it closed in 2020.
In return, according to the invoices it said it paid off, the store applied the county’s credit by paying a total of $31,730 to companies Sig Sauer, Amchar Wholesale Inc. and Eagle Point Gun in New Jersey for rifles, handguns and ammunition.
“I just paid the invoices. They got their new guns,” Pelletier said.
The gun shop, however, didn’t provide Durrah with copies of any old receipts. Pelletier said he spent three weeks tracking down what he could for the county, but records were not as organized as they could have been after the store moved to a new location.
“Their records weren’t as specific as I’d liked them to be,” Durrah, the county administrator, said, adding that the store might have provided receipts in the past. “They may have, and that may not have gotten to the administrative office.”
He added, “I just don’t think that we did our due diligence to ensure that the paperwork was correct. I think part of that was the changing of the guard when we lost the [former] county administrator.”
Durrah replaced Tom Winsor, who resigned at the end of 2020. Winsor did not return a phone call.
Both Wainwright and Pelletier said the shop did provide receipts in the past.
“Because we’re a highly regulated industry here, everything that goes in and out of this shop has invoices and receipts,” Pelletier said. “So they had everything. They couldn’t track them down. Whether they got lost, I’m not going to speak for Oxford County.”
“I think we had a good record system going,” Wainwright said. “Everything we did here was shared with the county commissioners office.”