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Posted: 12/15/2003 9:49:59 PM EDT
Antique firearms expert convicted of fraud

Monday December 15, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) An antique weapons expert was convicted Monday for his role in conspiring to inflate the prices of two historic pistols that he and another man sold to a wealthy collector, prosecutors said.

Michael Zomber, of Franklin, Tenn., was found guilty of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, said federal prosecutor Robert Goldman. He faces up to five years in prison.

Zomber and Richard Ellis, a respected expert on Colt pistols, deceived a Pennsylvania collector, James Murphy, into thinking that he was in a bidding war for two pistols once owned by Texas Rangers Capt. Samuel H. Walker, prosecutors said. The guns, a pair of .44-caliber Colt revolvers, ultimately sold for $2.2 million, a price that prosecutors say was vastly inflated.

Ellis, of Moline, Ill., pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and agreed to cooperate against his accomplice.

The guns were among the first .44-caliber Colts manufactured and had been presented to Walker as gifts by gun magnate Samuel Colt in appreciation of his aid in their design.

Some historians suspect that the revolvers were in Walker's possession when he was killed in combat in Mexico in 1847.

Investigators said Ellis acquired one of the pistols for $640,000, but arranged to sell it to Murphy for $1 million after showing him fake letters in which a fictional buyer claimed to be willing to pay at least that much for the gun.

Zomber's attorney, Gilbert Scutti, did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office after business hours on Monday. He has said the guns were worth what Murphy paid for them.

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