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Unicoi man faces firearms charges

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
[email protected]
Authorities say a Unicoi County man, Billy Joe Rice, is in federal custody after being indicted by a federal grand jury on six charges involving firearms and a controlled substance last week.
Rice’s arrest came after an investigation conducted from about Aug. 27, 2008, to about May 17, 2012, according to the indictment.
Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said a building rented by Rice, which is also the site of Joe and Margaret’s Market located on Unicoi Drive, was used to facilitate illegal firearm and drug exchanges. “He ran the store,” said Hensley. “What started the investigation was we had numerous reports from citizens and town of Unicoi officials that certain people were going in and out of there. So, we started looking into it.”
Hensley said the sheriff’s department has recovered many stolen items from the business in the past.
“It got to the point that we even told Mr. Rice that if he bought anything, he needed to get the person’s identity and phone number,” said Hensley. “There were a lot of times he was able to produce this information, but also a lot of times that he could not produce names.”
Hensley said an undercover operation began as an investigation into Rice’s alleged involvement with methamphetamine. “We were able to send an undercover officer in,” Hensley said. “We did acquire methamphetamine from Mr. Rice. Then we sent a convicted felon in and he in fact told Mr. Rice he was a convicted felon. Mr. Rice went ahead and sold him a weapon anyway.”
The first charge against Rice accuses him of dealing firearms without a license, according to the indictment.
The second count handed down by the grand jury charges him with the sale or disposal of a Marlin .22-caliber bolt rifle, a Daisy .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle and a Mosin-Nagant bolt rifle on or about June 1, 2010, the indictment states. Also in the indictment, a third count was charged against Rice, which involved a 30-30 caliber lever action rifle that was allegedly sold or disposed of to an individual on about Oct. 6, 2010.
The indictment states that Rice had reasonable cause to believe the person or persons to whom the firearms were sold or otherwise disposed of had been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
The fourth charge handed down by the federal grand jury involved the alleged possession on or about April 4, 2012, of stolen firearms that had been transported in interstate commerce. The indictment states that two Colt .45 pistols, a Magnum .357 pistol, a Taurus .44 pistol, a Marlin 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington 30-06 rifle were involved.

For the remainder of this article please pick up the June 19, 2012 edition of The Erwin Record.