Philadelphia meth dealer gets 12 years for selling drugs, ghost guns near schools

PHILADELPHIA – First Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Matthew Stephens, 52, of Philadelphia, PA, was sentenced to 151 months in prison and ten years of supervised release by United States District Judge Harvey Bartle III for his role in a scheme to traffic pounds of methamphetamine, several dozen firearms, machine gun conversion devices, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition between 2017 and 2019.

The defendant pleaded guilty in November 2019 to seven counts of drug trafficking and firearms charges, and then pleaded guilty again in August 2020 to nine additional firearms offenses charged in two Superseding Indictments. The specific charges included conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, distribution of methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of a school, possession of a machine gun, possession of a non-registered machine gun, possession of a firearm by a felon, and dealing in firearms without a license.

The charges against Stephens stemmed from a long-term investigation conducted by the ATF into methamphetamine and firearms trafficking in the area of two public schools in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 2018 and 2019, during the course of this investigation, the defendant sold dozens of firearms to the ATF through a confidential informant. Many of these firearms had serial numbers that were obliterated, and still others were homemade, un-serialized, AR-15 style assault rifles, commonly referred to as “ghost guns” or “PMFs” (Privately Made Firearms) due to the complete absence of traceable manufacturer markings. Stephens also sold to the ATF during dozens of transactions parts designed to convert a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic firearm (“auto sears”), Glock machine gun conversion “kits,” two rifles and more than one hundred rounds of ammunition.

On March 27, 2019, Stephens was arrested during an ATF sting operation in the parking lot of a Wawa convenience store on Bustleton Avenue in North Philadelphia. At the time of his arrest, the defendant was in possession of over three kilograms of methamphetamine. For his criminal conduct, which included his role in three different conspiracies between 2017 and 2019, Stephens was later charged in three separate Indictments.

In total, Stephens sold 52 firearms, 44 machinegun conversion devices, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as well as more than $50,000 worth of methamphetamine. Many of the transactions occurred within one block of a public elementary school in Philadelphia. Two of the transactions involving methamphetamine occurred at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike.

“This defendant personally threatened the safety of our communities,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Williams. “He sold drugs and firearms, including homemade untraceable firearms, immediately adjacent to two public schools, directly endangering the lives of children. Thanks to the steady, determined efforts of investigators at the ATF, Stephens’ revolving door of criminal contraband has been cut off.”

“Trafficked firearms represent a danger to our community, because they can end up in the hands of convicted felons, violent criminals, and many other kinds of people who are prohibited from having firearms,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “This successful investigation and prosecution is a testament to our terrific partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and a reflection of our commitment to aggressively pursuing firearms traffickers in our communities.”

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Justin Ashenfelter and Priya T. De Souza.