11 Michigan men charged after FBI investigates sale of devices that turn pistols into machine guns

Pistol with switch can fire more than 1K rounds per minute, police say

Items found in Torez Burnett's home, according to prosecutors. (WDIV)

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Documents detail drug trafficking and firearm crime allegations from a Benton Harbor, Michigan investigation that led to charges against 11 men.

Five of the men were arrested Thursday (Dec. 15) morning, another five were in custody on prior charges and one is still missing, according to police. The men range in age from 19 to 32.

Seven of the 11 men are facing charges related to the possession and transfer of firearm conversion kits, known as switches.

READ: FBI searching for 23-year-old Grand Rapids man among 11 facing drug, firearm charges

Switches turn semi-automatic pistols into machine guns

According to the complaint, switches can turn semi-automatic pistols into fully automatic machine guns.

They can be made of either metal or a polymer often used in 3D printers. A “switch” typically has three parts. It can be installed with little technical knowledge in around one minute.

When a switch is installed on a pistol and the trigger is pulled, the pistol will fire until the trigger is released or the magazine is empty. According to the complaint, a glock pistol with a switch can fire more than 1,000 rounds per minute.

“Conversion devices are not simple firearms parts or metal accessories, as commonly advertised. When a person uses an illegally converted weapon that shoots multiple rounds by a single function, it poses an even more serious threat to public safety,” said Craig Kailimai, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for the Detroit Field Division.

Photographs of uninstalled and installed switches as illustrations. (Criminal Complaint)

Police search Benton Harbor home, find switch parts

On Dec. 22, 2021, police searched the home of Lyondre Burnett on Columbus Avenue in Benton Harbor, Michigan to check for evidence that Burnett had been unlawfully possessing firearms.

According to the document, Lyondre has a prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon in 2020. Police found his mother, Isheria Jackson, and his brother, Torez Burnett, inside the home.

Isheria Jackson told police she kicked Lyondre Burnett out of the home because she blamed him for the home having been shot at in the last year. During the search, police found firearms, firearm parts and switch parts.

Investigators also found printed instructions describing how to attach a “switch” to a semi-automatic handgun. They also found the backplate of a Glock handgun and a Glock handgun without a backplate.

“Based on my training and experience, I understand that a pistol’s backplate must be removed to equip the pistol with a switch,” the investigator said in the report.

Packages sent from China to Benton Harbor contained switches

According to the document, federal agents seized two packages that were sent to Benton Harbor from China that contained 10 switch tools.

Investigators removed the switches from the packages and replaced them with objects that resembled switch parts. They obtained a warrant and delivered the package to the address on the label.

While they were searching the home, Brayden Bowman arrived. Bowman was on probation and was required to allow police to search him. Police detained him and took his phone to search for evidence. Police found evidence that he had messaged Torez Burnett about packages before.

According to the document, investigators found evidence that packages had been delivered previously to the same home on Feb. 14 and Feb. 21. The investigator believes those packages also contained switches.

“I further believe, based on the facts described above and elsewhere in this affidavit, that Torez and Bowman worked together to have the switches delivered,” the investigator said.

Torez Burnett messages with Eric Williams

The document showed Facebook messages between Torez Burnett and Eric Williams from Feb. 5, where police said they were negotiating the sale of a firearm equipped with a switch.

  • WILLIAMS: Aye fool let get that 29 for 16
  • WILLIAMS: N I wanna buy that one n put it on my .45
  • TOREZ: I’ll do 18 I got taxed on dis Bih I gave up my gen 5 23 nd sum cheese
  • WILLIAMS: Man fool I feel it I slight ain’t trynna pay that much cheese tho no cap especially since I’m really just trynna get the switchy frfr
  • WILLIAMS: That’s why I said I’ll grab that ho for 16
  • TOREZ: Igh man 17 ◎ yo A** stay willing and dealing it work everytime ♨
  • WILLIAMS: Man b**ch you can do 16
  • WILLIAMS: I’m finna hit the road ina sec
  • TOREZ: So 23 In All
  • TOREZ: Bet Only Cause It’s U Hoe I Gotchu Nd It’s Only Gone Take Me 30 Seconds to make da Glizzy do jumping jacks

Investigators said they obtained Williams’ Facebook account and found pictures of him holding a handgun with a switch and a video of him shooting a handgun with a switch.

Eric Williams holding handgun with switch (L); Driver's license photo (C); Firing a handgun (R) (FBI)

Police shared more examples of text exchanges and social media posts where they said Torez Burnett was selling switches.

Straw purchases in Grand Rapids

Police believe Armando Villanueva and Nicholas Hallo purchased firearms through Villanueva’s girlfriend.

That is what investigators call a “straw purchase.” It’s an illegal firearm purchase where the actual buyer of the gun, being unable to pass the required federal background check or desiring to not have his or her name associated with the transaction, uses another person who can pass the required background check to purchase the firearm for them.

Villanueva, Hallo and the girlfriend went to the Silver Bullet FFL in Wyoming, Michigan on April 5, 2022, according to police.

Villanueva and Hallo entered the store without the girlfriend and spent time near the handgun case. They left and five minutes later the girlfriend entered the story and purchased a Glock model 33 handgun.

surveillance video from the Silver Bullet FFL showing HALLO (left) and VILLANUEVA (right) at the handgun case. (FBI)

Villanueva was arrested on July 14, 2022, after being accused of being involved in a shooting. Investigators found a video on his phone that shows him holding a Glock handgun with an affixed switch.

Police said they also found another video that showed Villanueva shooting the gun from a moving vehicle in what appeared to be a residential area. He was identified as the shooter due to his hand tattoo.

Learn more about the allegations in the criminal complaint below

The criminal complaint continues to list evidence including photos from social media and message exchanges between those accused of drug and/or weapons charges.

You can learn more about the allegations by viewing the criminal complaint below:

List of men and the charges they face

Evorion AndersonBenton Harbor20Distribution of methamphetamine; conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine
Jayvon AnthonyBenton Harbor21Possession or transfer of a machinegun; conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun; felon in possession of a firearm
Earl Austin IVBenton Harbor21Distribution of methamphetamine; conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine; possession or transfer of a machinegun; conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun
Quincy BowmanBenton Harbor25Conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun
Omarion BranchBenton Harbor19Felon in possession of a firearm
Torez BurnettBenton Harbor20Conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun
Nicholas HalloGrand Rapids32Felon in possession of a firearm
Demetrius SeuellBenton Harbor22Possession or transfer of a machine gun and conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun
Timothy ThomasBenton Harbor25Felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition
Armando VillanuevaGrand Rapids22Conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun
Eric WilliamsGrand Rapids23Conspiracy to possess or transfer a machinegun

About the Author:

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.