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February 11, 2022Philadelphia, PA, United StatesFirearms, Ammunition and Explosives

ICE HSI investigation leads to Lehigh county father and son charged with unlawful possession of more than a dozen machine guns and nearly as many silencers

PHILADELPHIA — An investigation by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led to the arrest and charge of Joseph Raymond Berger, 67, and Joseph Paul Berger, 32, of Bethlehem, PA, this week with multiple firearms offenses including possessing machine guns, possessing non-registered firearms, and possessing non-registered silencers.

The indictment alleges that the defendants illegally possessed 13 fully automatic machine guns and 12 firearms silencers. According to court documents, law enforcement agents with Customs and Border Protection intercepted three firearms silencers that were illegally imported into the United States in packages addressed to the defendants at their shared residence. Investigators then obtained a search warrant for the home and recovered from the basement the 12 firearms suppressors/silencers and 13 fully automatic machine guns that are listed in the indictment. The machine guns included 11 rifles and 2 submachine guns.

According to court documents, investigators also uncovered evidence that the firearms found in the Berger home were originally sold and purchased as semi-automatic firearms, which were then manually converted into unregistered, fully automatic machine guns.

“The defendants allegedly possessed a stockpile of unregistered fully-automatic machine guns and silencers in violation of the National Firearms Act,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “These weapons are extremely dangerous, which is why there are laws regulating their possession. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to remove dangerous weapons from our District.”

“This father-and-son duo possessed a small artillery of firearms in their home, including more than a dozen machine guns and silencers. This type of fire-power is incredibly dangerous if in the wrong hands,” said William S. Walker, Acting Special Agent in Charge of HSI Philadelphia. “HSI Philadelphia was pleased to work alongside our partners on this important investigation to ensure the defendants are held accountable for their crimes and not able to terrorize this community or any other.”

“As the indictment alleges, possession of illegal firearms like these, threatens the safety of the general public, especially when in the wrong hands,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division. “I would like to thank our local, state and federal partners for their contributions in this investigation.”

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 30 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release, a $270,000 fine, and a $300 special assessment.

The case was investigated by HSI, with assistance from Customs and Border Protection and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI's workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI's international presence represents DHS's largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.