SALT LAKE CITY — Authorities filed federal firearms charges Wednesday against two people accused of buying and loaning a gun to the man who killed University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey.
Sarah Emily Lady, 24, of Mapleton, and Nathan Daniel Vogel, 21, of Millcreek, allegedly made a "straw" purchase of a Beretta PX4 Storm .40-caliber handgun from a federal firearms dealer on Sept. 8, 2018, according to an indictment in U.S. District Court.
Both are charged with making a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm and conspiracy.
Vogel loaned the gun to an "acquaintance" — identified in court papers as M.S.R. — on Oct. 17, 2018, the indictment says.
Five days later, Melvin Rowland used the gun to shoot McCluskey in a parking lot outside her campus dorm. McCluskey had dated Rowland before learning he was a sex offender and more than a decade older than her.
“We applaud the U.S. Attorneys for pursuing charges against the individuals who lied and conspired to buy the gun that was used to kill our daughter," Jill McCluskey, Lauren's mother, said in a statement.
"Still we note that the University of Utah housing staff were informed that our daughter’s killer said he planned to bring the gun to campus, and they did nothing," she said. "We hope for additional accountability of the individuals who did not protect Lauren.”
Prosecutors allege Lady and Vogel knowingly made false and fictitious statements intended to deceive a firearms dealer while purchasing the gun. The indictment alleges that Lady falsely answered “yes” to a question asking whether she was the actual buyer of the firearm knowing that Vogel was the intended actual buyer.
A straw purchase happens when someone lies on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form to buy a firearm for an individual who is prohibited from owning a gun or an individual who does not want to wait for the completion of a background check. Lying on federal forms to buy a gun for someone is illegal.
"While we cannot change what happened that October night in Salt Lake City, we can say that without the conduct alleged in this indictment, this particular handgun would not have been used to take Lauren’s life," U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said in a statement.
The indictment does not allege Lady and Vogel were responsible for McCluskey’s death.
Lady and Vogel made false statements on the ATF form to circumvent Vogel’s background check and waiting period because Vogel wanted the firearm immediately, according to the charges.
Vogel was “generally discharged” from the Army and feared that he could not buy a gun without delay, the indictment says.
Huber said it "turned out to be a matter of patience" and Vogel wanted the gun immediately so he convinced Lady to "lie on his behalf."
Between Aug. 30, 2018, and Sept. 8, 2018, Lady and Vogel made plans to meet at a gun store in Salt Lake City so Vogel could identify the firearm he wanted and Lady could buy it for him.
The indictment alleges Lady and Vogel texted 13 times to arrange the meeting. When they got to the store, Lady and Vogel looked at several guns and Vogel asked questions of the salesperson. Vogel pointed out the Beretta handgun, asked the salesperson questions and handled the weapon. He gave the Beretta back and moved to another area of the store to get ammunition for the gun, according to the charges.
Shortly after, Lady began the purchase of the Beretta, answering yes to the question asking if she was the actual buyer.
The firearms dealer conducted a background check on Lady that took about 10 minutes and allowed her to buy ammunition. Immediately after the sale, Lady handed the gun to Vogel, the indictment alleges.
"Straw purchases are prohibited under federal law for a reason,” Huber said. “When a firearm is unlawfully acquired or transferred, the firearm ends up in the wrong hands and violence brings tragedy to our community."
Denver-based ATF Special Agent in Charge Debbie Livingston said lying to buy a gun puts the community and public at risk.
"Our condolences go out to Lauren’s family and friends who have suffered because of conduct related to the straw purchase alleged in this indictment," she said in a statement.25 comments on this story
Agents arrested Lady on Tuesday and she pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance Wednesday. She was placed on supervised release with several restrictions, including prohibiting her from having contact with Vogel and prohibiting her from possessing guns or weapons.
A three-day jury trial is set for May 20.
An arrest warrant is pending for Vogel, according to prosecutors.
The maximum potential penalty for a false statement during the acquisition of a firearm is 10 years in prison. The conspiracy charge has a potential five-year sentence.