ATF talks about Conroe man caught selling machine guns

CONROE, Texas – A Conroe man was sentenced to federal prison in February for possessing and selling short-barreled machine guns to people he thought were members of a criminal organization. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives put the case together and spoke with KPRC about what led to the conviction of Michael Lee Price.

Assistant special agent-in-charge of the ATF’s Houston Office, Mickey French, said the bureau first got a tip Price was not shy in telling people he could make un-serialized machine guns and was looking for buyers.

“Very open about what he could do and when he could do it,” French said. “Offered to make machine guns, silencers, short barreled rifles.”

French said Price’s willingness to make and sell the weapons meant the ATF had to act quickly before a buyer was found.

“The undercover has to work fast, he has to gain the confidence of the seller,” French said.

“If you guys didn't buy them somebody was going to,” said Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.

“Exactly,” said French.

Michael Lee Price's Texas Court Document


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Michael Lee Price's Texas Court Document (PDF)
Michael Lee Price's Texas Court Document (Text)

Undercover ATF agents set up a meeting with Price and cut a deal to buy fully automatic weapons without serial numbers. No serial numbers mean the weapons can't be traced to a manufacturer or seller. ATF agents also learned that while Price lived at an apartment complex in Conroe, he was not making the weapons in our area.

“Mr. Price was making these weapons at his parents' home in Nebraska,” French said.

French said Price learned how to make the weapons and bought the necessary parts through different online sites.

“Basically allowed him to teach himself,” said French.

Channel 2 Investigates previously reported on “do-it-yourself rifles." Buying the parts and the tools needed to craft a semi-automatic rifle without a serial number is legal as long as the weapon is kept for personal use and the maker is not prohibited from owning a firearm. ATF agents said the difference with Price is, he was building fully automatic guns. Building a machine gun requires a federal license, paying a special tax, engraving a serial number and registering the weapon with the government, along with several other restrictions. The law prohibits the general public from building machine guns for personal use. Only federally licensed manufacturers are allowed to build these weapons, and even then, the weapons may only be built for the military or law enforcement.

Plus, federal court documents show Price already had a criminal record and was in serious debt. After making the deal to buy machine guns, ATF agents had another concern. French said Price believed he was selling to a criminal organization based in Arizona. Undercover agents were concerned about Price driving from Nebraska to Arizona with a trunk full of un-serialized machine guns.

“Making sure they didn't get lost, stolen or anything happened to them,” French said.

To shorten the distance, ATF agents set an undercover buy in Colorado. Price was captured on video selling the guns and quickly arrested. Court documents read Price was charged with illegal possession of a machine gun, possession of an unregistered machine gun and engaging in the business of firearms without a license.

Michael Lee Price's Colorado Court Document


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Michael Lee Price's Colorado Court Document (PDF)
Michael Lee Price's Colorado Court Document (Text)

“Who did he think he was selling to exactly?” asked Arnold.

“It was relayed that he was going to be making these machine guns, silencers, short barreled rifles for a criminal organization,” French said.

“This wasn't some poor guy down on his luck and was looking to make a quick buck? This is somebody who had no problem selling to criminals?” asked Arnold.

“He didn't have problem selling to criminals that openly admitted they were about to start a war,” French said.

Court records show Price pleaded guilty to three charges and was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison.

Michael Lee Price's Federal Court Document


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Michael Lee Price's Federal Court Document (PDF)
Michael Lee Price's Federal Court Document (Text)