Jesse Mathews gun trader faces federal charges

Read earlier storiesHearing for man accused of killing Chattanooga policeman delayedVideo: Trial date set for Jesse Mathews in Chattanooga cop slaying: Jan. 22, 2013Kathleen Mathews sentenced to 30 years and six months in prison, father gets 20 years, sister gets 11

A 40-year-old Ooltewah man who police say traded weapons with a fleeing felon later charged in the death of a Chattanooga police sergeant was arrested Wednesday and charged with federal weapons crimes.

Kevin Dawson was allowed to go free on bond after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Susan Lee on Wednesday afternoon. Dawson faces two weapons charges -- dealing in firearms without a federal firearms license and transfer or possession of a machine gun.

Dawson has no criminal history, is a lifelong area resident and has family ties, which are all factors judges consider when deciding whether a defendant remains free as they await further court proceedings. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for each of the charges against him.

An affidavit filed by an undercover agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives details an undercover operation the agency conducted on Dawson months after the arrest of Jesse Mathews, who could face the death penalty if convicted in the killing of Sgt. Tim Chapin on April 1, 2011, during a botched robbery at the U.S. Money Shops on Brainerd Road.

Dawson admitted to investigators that he'd traded a firearm to Mathews at a local gun show before the shooting. An ATF investigator "advised Dawson he should seek a federal firearms license because of his apparent frequent and consistent firearms sales."

According to the affidavit, beginning in October 2011 until Wednesday, undercover ATF agents bought weapons from Dawson, who told them he sold pistols and assault rifles for profit at gun shows in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Nashville.

The undercover agents told Dawson they were taking the guns to sell in Baltimore for cash. Dawson met to sell pistols, at one point carrying as many as 20 handguns in the trunk of his Toyota Camry, the affidavit says, meeting with agents in Ooltewah, Chattanooga and Dalton, Ga., to make sales or trades.

During the investigation, agents bought at least 29 pistols from Dawson on at least five occasions, according to court documents. In an April sale, the undercover agent asked Dawson if he would be interested in a Thompson .45-caliber fully automatic machine gun. Dawson said he had Nashville buyer who'd purchased a Barret .50-caliber rifle from him for between $10,000 and $11,000 recently who was interested in buying a Thompson submachine gun.

On Wednesday, the undercover agent brought the weapon to a meeting and Dawson traded him five other guns for it. Agents arrested Dawson immediately after the trade.

Family members of Dawson declined to comment on the charges after Wednesday's federal court hearing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Neff filed the criminal complaint, which presents the charges against Dawson before the evidence reaches a federal grand jury and places him under special bond conditions. Some of those conditions are that he not possess a firearm.

Evidence in the complaint and other testimony will be presented to a grand jury for a possible indictment on the charges. If indicted, Dawson would then face an arraignment and trial scheduling.

Dawson has not yet retained an attorney and faces a preliminary hearing June 6, unless he is indicted on probable cause evidence by a grand jury before that date.