Investigated cop played gun auction expert

2011-05-30T17:00:00Z 2011-09-22T14:20:07Z Investigated cop played gun auction expertBy Christine Kraly, (219) 852-3030

The owner of a Hobart auction firm temporarily is cutting ties with a Lake County police officer under federal watch, but called his colleague a "trustworthy guy."

Jonathan Kraft, owner of Kraft Auction Service, said he was surprised when he learned Sgt. Joseph Kumstar -- his assistant in a gun auction -- was a target in a federal investigation.

"When I heard about it, I just immediately thought, 'This isn't right,'" Kraft said.

The probe -- reportedly involving interstate weapons sales -- has halted their plans to go further into business together, however.

Kumstar and five other Lake County officers -- Capt. Marco Kuyachich, Lt. Michael Reilly, and Officers Ronald Slusser, Edward Kabella and Scott Shelhart -- were stripped of their police powers last week amid an inquiry into an alleged gun-running scheme.

None of the six officers has been charged with any crime.

Sources speaking on condition of anonymity have said the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Food and Drug Administration are involved in the investigation.

Kraft said none of the agencies conducting the investigation has contacted him.

Kraft said he got to know Kumstar through his auctions at the Lake County Fairgrounds, where Kumstar has worked security.

"We were talking one day and said, 'Let's start a gun auction,'" Kraft said.

"I needed someone that I know that knows guns well that could help me, and plus who's a trustworthy guy," he said. "I never had a problem with Joe."

The Times has been unable to reach Kumstar for comment.

Lake County fair board Vice President Tom Lump confirmed Kumstar, a member of the board, has worked security at the fairgrounds.

Kraft said Kumstar assisted and brought about 30 to 40 guns on consignment to an auction held at the county fairgrounds in April.

Kumstar dealt more with handling and providing information on the guns, while Kraft handled the cataloging, selling and money, Kraft said.

"He helped a little getting the dealer lined up," Kraft said.

Typically, Kraft said, when a non-antique gun is sold at auction, the buyer must accompany the seller to a licensed gun dealer to complete the transaction, including with an FBI background check.

"Every gun that we sold was all logged; it's all properly done," Kraft said. "There's never been a thought in my mind that the guns I sold had any issue to them."

Getting licensed

Before news broke that Kumstar was being investigated, he and Kraft had planned to apply together for a Federal Firearms License, which would allow them to be legal gun dealers, Kraft said.

"I'm not going to do that now. I can guarantee you that," Kraft said.

The investigation has made him cautious about taking on a partner in business ventures.

"He'll just always be an (auction) assistant," he said of Kumstar.

Kraft said the future of the two working together depends on the outcome of the federal investigation.

ATF license records show Kumstar does not possess an FFL, but two of his fellow officers on leave -- Slusser and Kabella -- do.

Sources familiar with the federal inquiry have said authorities are investigating whether Kumstar illegaly used Slusser and Kabella's licenses.

ATF spokeswoman Kim Riddell said she could not comment on the Lake County case.

"We do inspect dealers and at times can revoke licenses," Riddell said.

Generally, she said, a person's FFL may be revoked for not complying with the Gun Control Act.

Being convicted of a felony is chief among the reasons why someone might lose their license, Riddell said.

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