GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 7, 2009

EMT armed to the teeth

Police find cache of weapons in Rockport man's home

By Jonathan L'Ecuyer

ROCKPORT — The part-time EMT arrested last week on larceny and obstruction of justice allegations now faces multiple drug and weapon charges after police found a cache of firearms, thousands of assorted prescription pills, a tear-gas launcher and a military-grade rocket launcher — all inside his Rockport apartment.

James M. Atkinson of 31R Broadway, was arrested on the new charges after police officers executed a search warrant obtained from Gloucester District Court.

Police had sought the warrant suspecting that Atkinson — whose license to carry a gun was suspended last week off the original felony charge — failed to relinquish all of his firearms the first time around. That, police said, came after officers noticed he had handed in ammunition for guns that he hadn't turned over.

Sgts. Mark Schmink and Robert Tibert, together with Patrolman Daniel Mahoney, arrived at Atkinson's apartment shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday. Atkinson had barricaded both doors, but eventually let officers inside the home without incident, police said.

According to police reports, officers discovered firearms that included a .357 magnum and rifle; hundreds of rounds of ammunition for a wide range of firearms, including a Glock handgun; mace; military-grade smoke bombs; more than 1,000 pills; a tear gas launcher; a "U.S. Army" rocket launcher and what police estimated to be millions of dollars worth of surveillance equipment.

Most of the weapons and ammunition were found inside a locked closet, which Atkinson at first refused to open for police. Atkinson opened the closet only after officers threatened to break down the door.

As police searched the apartment, Atkinson stated he was having a heart attack. The 47-year-old was transported to Addison Gilbert Hospital where he was treated and released a short time later. He was booked at the Rockport Police station while still wearing a hospital gown.

A bail commissioner ordered Atkinson held on $60,000 cash bail pending his arraignment yesterday.

Atkinson pleaded not guilty to 16 charges (13 misdemeanors and three felonies) in Gloucester District Court yesterday; Judge Joseph Jennings reduced Atkinson's bail to $3,500 despite a request from the District Attorney's office that bail be increased to $100,000, police said.

Police charged Atkinson with three counts of possession of firearms without a firearm identification card (FID); possession of a rifle without a license; possession of an internal machine (rocket launcher); possession of ammunition without a license; two counts of possession of large capacity ammunition; unlawful possession of fireworks; possession of mace without a license; and six counts of possession of Class E drugs.

Police seized the items found inside his apartment. Mahoney and Sgt. Timothy Frithsen, a 25-year veteran of the Rockport Police force, said yesterday they have never seen so many weapons and rounds of ammunition in one place.

A pharmacist identified the drugs as neurontin (anti-epileptic); glyburide/micronase (oral diabetes medication to control blood sugar); citalopram and celexa (anti-depressants); and aciphex (heartburn medication), police said.

Frithsen said the charges related to the rocket launcher and large capacity ammunition caches are felonies. Even with a valid FID, it is illegal for Atkinson to possess the rocket and tear gas launchers, Frithsen added.

Atkinson, an EMT working part-time for Rockport's Ambulance Department was arrested on felony charges of larceny and obstruction of justice last Tuesday after a month-long Rockport Police investigation into his alleged bilking of $32,000 from a Swiss gas turbine services corporation.

He pleaded not guilty to those charges and was released on personal recognizance by Jennings.

Town officials said yesterday that Atkinson has been suspended without pay indefinitely as a result of the charges. He joined the department as a first responder last year, but had only worked as an EMT in recent months. He was still in the department's six-month "observation period."

The investigation leading to Atkinson's initial charges began last month after the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce told Rockport Police about e-mail correspondence between the Chamber and an employee of Switzerland-based GTS (Gas Turbine Services SA), which produces technology and equipment for the oil and gas industry.

The employee contacted the Chamber in an attempt to find out if Atkinson's purported Granite Island Group was legitimate. The caller told the Chamber that his company purchased surveillance equipment from Atkinson's company for more than $32,000, but that it never arrived.

The Chamber forwarded a number of e-mails from the Swiss business to police, showing a purchase had been made and money wired to a Granite Island Group bank account. Records show $32,845 was deposited into a Bank of America account on Oct. 8; Atkinson acknowledged he accepted the money in an e-mail to GTS, police said.

Atkinson claimed that agents from the FBI and U.S. Customs were looking into the matter because the Swiss company was trying to have the equipment delivered to "Kabistan"; police later determined Atkinson was trying to remember Uzbekistan.

Atkinson said he wouldn't sell the equipment until the company produced an export document. However, e-mails obtained by police show the export documentation was attached and sent to Atkinson on Oct. 16.

Atkinson, who claims on the Granite Island Group Web site to have been trained by the federal government in intelligence, said he did not believe Uzbekistan was authorized to receive such equipment.

However, when police contacted the FBI, agents said Atkinson never contacted the Bureau regarding the transaction, and Uzbekistan does indeed have the authority to receive the type of surveillance equipment in question.

On the company's reported Web site, www.tscm.com, the California native lists himself as president and senior engineer of Granite Island Group.

The reportedly 22-year-old company's slogan is "simply put, we hunt spies, we stop espionage, and we plug leaks." The site claims the business specializes in the electronics engineering field, technical surveillance counter measures, bug sweeps and wiretap direction.

"Mr. Atkinson has been trained by the U.S. government in intelligence, covert operations, technical surveillance, and cryptanalysis, and is a graduate of multiple government schools," the Web site states under a link to Atkinson's purported background. "He is one of a very small number of professionals who have been formally certified and trained by the NSA."

Atkinson list a Rockport-based telephone number for Granite Island Group, posted its address as 127 Eastern Ave., Suite 291, Gloucester. The 127 Eastern Ave. address is the site of the Cape Ann Marketplace shopping plaza, but when Mahoney attempted to find the business, he said that Suite 291 is a mailing address, not a business office.

Mahoney said yesterday police are still waiting to hear back from federal agencies regarding his purported training and experience within the government, but indicated some of Atkinson's statements on the Web site may be true. Meanwhile, Police are also unsure how Atkinson obtained the millions of dollars worth of surveillance equipment found inside his apartment.

The investigation is ongoing and involves nearly every state agency as well as federal investigators, Mahoney said, adding further charges could follow.

Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3451 or jlecuyer@gloucestertimes.com.

CRIMINAL CHARGES

Items seized from home