Man pleads guilty over stolen National Guard weapons

A South Carolina man entered a guilty plea on Monday for his connection to a bag full of hot military weapons that included machine guns and a 40mm grenade launcher.

Brandon Shane Polston, 32, of Lancaster, changed his plea this week on a host of weapon charges relating to possession of National Firearms Act items without the proper paperwork and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Polston’s plea bargain followed in the footsteps of his two fellow co-conspirators, Austin Lee Ritter, 23, and Kimberly Denise Cannon, 40, as noted by a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

According to court documents, the trio’s plot unraveled after a series of almost comically inept circumstances.

Authorities were drawn to Polston and company just after midnight on the Sunday morning of last Thanksgiving weekend when a Lancaster Police officer on patrol saw Cannon driving a Saturn Vue compact SUV with a bag of food on the roof, blowing litter along South Carolina Hwy 9. Conducting a traffic stop, the officer found that Cannon had the wrong tag on her Saturn, an open container in the center console, and no insurance– even before the lawman noticed what turned out to be an FN M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and a select-fire Colt M16 in a bag on the back seat.

On a further search of the vehicle, authorities found an M203 40mm grenade launcher, two Beretta M9 handguns, body armor, “military looking electronic equipment” that indicated that it belonged to a local Army National Guard unit, a second M16 in the spare tire area, and other items. Cannon, at the time on probation for a conviction in North Carolina, told officers that she had recently left Ritter and Polston at an area motel and the men had put the guns in her car.

A subsequent visit to the Carriage Inn on Main Street in Lancaster — ranked #3 of 3 hotels in the city by Trip Advisor — put police in contact with the two men, who were found with a quantity of meth. On further questioning, Polson and Ritter, both felons, admitted to obtaining the guns from the National Guard Armory on Nichols Road, about three miles away.

Surveillance video from the motel showed all three individuals bringing the bags containing the stolen weapons back and forth between Cannon’s vehicle and the motel room. Investigators, armed with a warrant, found photos of the guns on Ritter and Cannon’s cell phones along with text messages sent the day before by Ritter offering to sell an M16 for $500. In another message, relating to the guns found on Cannon’s phone, she texted, “Hit me up big BUSINESS,” following it up with, “Fully auto AR-16.”

Upon checking with the local Guard armory, police and responding military personnel found the facility, home to a combat engineer unit, did not have its perimeter doors, interior doors, weapon vault or weapons racks secured. Officials verified that a number of weapons were missing and that some of the items recovered from Cannon’s vehicle were from the armory.

An article published the month prior to the incident named the Lancaster installation as one of the most dilapidated in the Palmetto State, needing an estimated $2.175 million to repair.

Polston — with several prior convictions for burglary, breaking into cars, and receiving stolen goods going back to 2013 — could get up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at sentencing on each charge. Cannon and Ritter face similar punishment.

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