A man linked to the gun used by one of the Boston Marathon bombers to kill one police officer and wound another pleaded guilty Thursday to a charge of dealing crack cocaine.

Biniam Tsegai, 27, of Portland – also known as “Icy” – pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Portland to a single count of conspiracy to distribute more than 28 grams of crack cocaine. He was arrested a year ago and had pleaded not guilty.

Tsegai faces five to 40 years in prison with no chance of parole, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Torresen explained to him at a hearing Thursday.

Tsegai is charged with conspiring to traffic in crack cocaine with two other men, Hamadi Hassan, known by the street name “BK,” and Lacey Armstrong, also known as “Lex” or “Lexy.” Cases against the two are still pending.

Tsegai was led into the courtroom dressed in an orange county jail uniform signifying medium security. His ankles remained shackled and his wrists were chained to his torso. He said he understood the charges against him and that he was not pressured to change his plea. Prosecutors said there was no plea agreement.

Tsegai was charged with arranging crack cocaine sales on behalf of Hassan after the FBI conducted wiretaps of cellular telephones in the summer and fall of 2011. Communications intercepted by the FBI along with cooperating witnesses indicate that Tsegai took orders for Hassan, delivered crack cocaine for him and packaged and prepared crack cocaine after it had been brought to Maine from Boston.

Tsegai also was named in a Los Angeles Times report as the last known owner of the handgun used by the Tsarnaev brothers after the marathon bombings.

Police believe Tamerlan Tsarnaev used the gun to kill Sean Collier, an MIT police officer in April 2013 during the manhunt for Tsarnaev and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was captured later and is awaiting trial. Tamarlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with police. The bombings killed three people and injured more than 260.

The L.A. Times report, based on non-public documents and confidential sources, also said Tsarnaev used proceeds from the drug trade in Maine to finance trips to Chechnya and Dagestan, where he was radicalized.

The report said a trace by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of the gun recovered from Tsarnaev found it was purchased at Cabela’s in Scarborough by a South Portland man, Danny Sun Jr., who told police he passed the gun on to Tsegai.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Conley would not comment on any connection between Tsegai and the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombings or subsequent shooting of the officers. He also would not say whether Tsegai has cooperated with authorities to seek a reduction in his sentence.

At a bail hearing held June 10, Conley argued that even though Tsegai had only misdemeanor convictions, he had a lengthy history of contact with the Portland police.

“Police respond to shots fired, guess who’s around; police respond to someone getting stabbed in the head, who’s around,” Conley said at the time. “Police respond to that poor girl back in July of 2011 getting stabbed, they go back to the house, a standoff ensues, who’s inside? This man.”

Tsegai often carried $800 to $1,200 with him though he had no apparent job beyond a short stint during high school at a convenience store, Conley said at the hearing.

But throughout that hearing, as the U.S. Attorney tried to convince a judge to keep Tsegai locked up until trial, there was no mention that he had handled the gun later used by Tamarlan Tsarnaev.

Authorities have not commented publicly on whether they believe Tsegai ever had possession of the gun.

Tsegai’s attorney at Thursday’s hearing, Thomas Dyhrberg, refused to comment about the case after the appearance.

No sentencing date was set for Tsegai. Many details of the conspiracy were not released because of pending cases.

 

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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