Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

No charges for shotgun 'straw buyer' in Oldsmar double murder case

OLDSMAR — Federal and state authorities have opted not to pursue charges against an Oldsmar teenager they say helped a friend obtain a gun later used to kill two people.

Law enforcement officials say Matthew Schwab, 18, purchased a shotgun for his friend Benjamin Bishop, also 18. Bishop, who was ineligible to buy a gun himself because of his criminal record, is accused of using the weapon on Oct. 28 to kill his mother and her boyfriend as they lay in bed, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Bishop has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Imari Shibata and Kelley Allen, both 49. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail at the Pinellas County Jail, awaiting trial.

Schwab's identity, first disclosed to the Tampa Bay Times by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and subsequently confirmed by the Sheriff's Office, has not previously been made public. Schwab and his family declined to comment.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he believed Schwab should be held accountable for helping Bishop avoid a background check, even though there is no indication Schwab knew his friend would kill anyone with the gun he helped him obtain.

"I wholeheartedly feel that there should be some accountability for this guy. You don't go buy a gun for somebody you know can't buy one," Gualtieri said in November.

Florida law is vague on the subject of so-called "straw buyers" who purchase firearms intended for the use of others prohibited from having them, local law enforcement officials say. But the practice is explicitly banned under federal gun regulations. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has even launched an educational campaign to reduce straw buying, called "Don't Lie for the Other Guy."

Delano Reid, assistant special agent in charge of the ATF's Tampa field office, said his agents had forwarded Schwab's case to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Kendall Davidson, a prosecutor in the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, said that federal prosecutors had consulted with his office about Schwab and that they had jointly reached a decision not to file charges against the young man, for now.

Schwab has cooperated with homicide detectives and is expected to be a witness for the state if Bishop's case goes to trial, Davidson said. Federal prosecutors "don't want to do anything that will potentially interfere with our prosecution of a homicide," he said.

"There's no indication to us that he knew what Bishop was going to do," Davidson added. "If there was that indication, we'd be looking at it differently."

Davidson said Schwab has not been promised immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Bishop.

"He hasn't been promised anything," he said.

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