Web of connections unravels after gun burglary

Five Sussex men indicted in Ocean View hardware store theft
April 5, 2013
A handgun similar to the above was the first found by an undercover detective during an investigation into the theft of 20 handguns from an Ocean View store. SOURCE SHOOTINGREVIEWS.COM

Detectives investigating the theft of 20 handguns from an Ocean View hardware store in November have uncovered a trail of weapons sold in exchange for drugs that crisscrosses Sussex County.

Five Sussex County men – Olin James Vickers, 36, of Milton; Herbert Roger Aiken, 31, of Ellendale; Jonathan Copenhaver, 42, of Broadkill Beach; Thomas Lecates, 26, of Blades; and Gregory Wilkinson, 29, of Seaford – face weapons charges after a federal indictment issued March 25 connected them to the Nov. 6 theft of the handguns from G&E Hardware Nov. 6.

Following the burglary, Delaware State Police were on the look-out for the masked man wearing a black coat shown on store surveillance video smashing a display case and leaving with 20 handguns.

Less than a week later, police had their first clue. An undercover agent bought a Rock Island Armory .45-caliber pistol from Lecates and Wilkinson. A partially obliterated serial number linked the handgun to one of the 20 handguns stolen from G&E Hardware, court records state. The two told the undercover officer that they had more weapons to sell and Lecates said Wilkinson gave  Copenhaver heroin or pills for some of the firearms, court records state.

The detective on Nov. 14 bought a Ruger, followed by a Smith and Wesson Nov. 19; at that point, he immediately arrested Lecates. Wilkinson was arrested at his home the same day; both were charged as felons in possession of a firearm, according to court records.

Further investigation led police to Aiken, who was in Sussex Correctional Institution on unrelated charges. He told police Olin "OJ" Vickers had worked for him doing HVAC work. The two went to G&E Hardware a week before the burglary to "purchase items for a job," court records state.

A few days after the robbery, Aiken told police in court records that Vickers showed him a bag of handguns with shards of broken glass and told him about the burglary. Aiken later helped Vickers hide a black Carhartt jacket at a Milton location and five weapons in Georgetown; other weapons were kept in a 5-gallon bucket in a shed near Vickers' Milton home, court records state.

Aiken said in court records that Vickers gave guns to "John" from Broadkill Beach to sell in exchange for drugs; Aiken also said Vickers threatened to hurt him and his family if he told authorities about the burglary.

Police arrested Copenhaver Nov. 29 and charged him with possession of use of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking offense. Court documents show Copenhaver later told police that Vickers gave him four firearms and wanted heroin in exchange; Copenhaver then sold the guns to "Greg" from Seaford in exchange for $100 and some prescription pain pills.

Later Nov. 29, police arrested Vickers at his Milton home. Vickers told police Aiken was in on the burglary from the beginning, and they split the guns and proceeds from the sale of them, court records state.

Kim Reeves, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said all five men are committed on undisclosed bond; she would not release their locations, according to U.S. Attorney's Office policy.

The men face federal charges because they were not licensed by federal law to sell firearms, Reeves said. She also said they transported weapons across state lines.


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