Staff Writer

A Norridgewock man will spend 10 years in prison for buying 15 guns to trade for drugs when, as a convicted felon, he was prohibited from owning a single firearm.

A federal judge handed down the maximum statutory punishment to Douglas Stebbins Jr., 28, on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, ending a three-year investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“The sentence reflects the seriousness of the case,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Delahanty said Friday.

The case began Jan. 28, 2008, when police in Holden, Mass., arrested Stebbins during a traffic stop for unlawful possession of two firearms, according to paperwork filed in U.S. District Court.

He had previously been convicted in Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan of trafficking cocaine and was prohibited from possessing a gun.

During the traffic stop, police found a backpack hidden behind the rear seat of the vehicle. Inside were two guns, a Walther model P22 .22-caliber pistol and a Smith and Wesson model Sigma .40-caliber pistol, according to court records.

When police traced the guns, they discovered they had been purchased by another man, William C. Wheeler II, 30, of Skowhegan, from a federally-licensed gun shop in Solon called Bait, Bolts & Bullets.

Through the investigation, police learned Stebbins paid Wheeler cash to buy the guns for him, so he could then trade the weapons for drugs in Massachusetts, according to court documents.

By reviewing the Solon shop’s records, police determined Wheeler had purchased pistols and revolvers there between October 2007 and January 2008.

They also learned Wheeler bought a pistol for Stebbins at Jim’s Gun Shop in Winslow, according to the prosecution. Stebbins paid Wheeler between $80 and $100 each time he purchased the guns, documents said.

Although the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a release Friday that Stebbins paid Wheeler to buy 15 guns for him, court documents state that Stebbins admitted to obtaining nine guns.

Wheeler later lied to ATF special agents when he told them he sold the guns to Stebbins’ brother and his own father, court records state.

Wheeler also falsely filled out paperwork each time he purchased guns, responding “yes” to a question that asked whether he was the actual buyer and was not acquiring the guns on behalf of someone else.

Wheeler later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make a false statement to a federally licensed dealer, unlawful making of a false statement to a federal firearm licensed dealer and knowingly making a false statement to a federal agent.

He was sentenced in February in U.S. District Court to two years in prison, plus three years of supervised release.

Stebbins pleaded guilty on June 23, 2010, to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Chief Judge John Woodcock Jr. sentenced Stebbins Thursday to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Woodcock spoke Thursday about Stebbins conspiring with his girlfriend to smuggle Suboxone into Piscataquis County Jail, where he was held as he awaited sentencing.

His girlfriend, Gretchen Gordon, of Anson, Stebbins and two others were charged with attempted trafficking in prison contraband, according to the Bangor Daily News article.

Stebbins is scheduled to be sentenced on that charge Oct. 24 in Piscataquis County Superior Court. He is being held at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland.

Delahanty said prosecution was successful because of the cooperation of the ATF, Holden and Worcester, Mass., police departments and the Massachusetts State Police.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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