Madison man sentenced to three years for illegal gun sales, including gun that killed Chicago officer

November 3, 2018

A Madison man was sentenced Thursday to just over three years in prison for repeatedly selling firearms without a federal license, including a gun that was used to kill a Chicago police commander in February, after he was warned by federal officials to stop.

“I think you just didn’t care who you sold those guns to,” U.S. District Judge James Peterson told Thomas Caldwell, 68, before sentencing him to 37 months in prison.

Peterson said he wasn’t persuaded that, given the chance, Caldwell wouldn’t resume selling guns to anyone who wanted one, as he did even after he was sternly warned to stop by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2015. ATF even gave him an application to become a licensed gun dealer, which Caldwell never filled out or submitted.

“I can only conclude that it goes to laziness,” Peterson said.

Among the approximately 200 advertisements for guns that Caldwell posted since late 2015 was a Glock Model 26 that was used to kill Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer on Feb. 13. Prosecutors said other guns that were sold by Caldwell turned up at other crime scenes in Madison and Milwaukee.

The Glock was originally sold in 2011 to a man who sold it to Caldwell in 2015. Caldwell told ATF agents that he sold the gun to his brother, who traded it back to Caldwell in April 2017. About a month later, Caldwell sold the gun to someone else before it eventually wound up in the hands of Shomari Legghette, who is alleged to have killed Bauer.

Northeastern Illinois University Police Chief John Escalante, who rose through the ranks with Bauer at the Chicago Police Department to become its second-in-command by the time he retired in 2016, told Peterson that he met Bauer when both were first-graders and attended school with him all the way into college.

Bauer, 53, was commander of the department’s 18th District, in charge of 300 officers, Escalante said, at the time that he was shot to death while struggling with a wanted man whom officers were chasing.

“I would say Paul was just about liked by everyone,” Escalante said, at times holding back his emotions. “If you asked all those 300 officers, they would tell you that.”

He said he has not visited Bauer’s grave since his funeral, but said he will.

“I want to be able to go back and tell him that justice was served here today,” Escalante told Peterson. Afterward, Escalante declined to comment about the sentence Caldwell received, but Cmdr. Noel Sanchez said the sentence was “more than I thought would happen.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim O’Shea argued for a sentence within advisory federal sentencing guidelines, which put the possible sentence between 37 and 46 months.

“Guns, in the hands of dangerous people, are dangerous forever,” O’Shea wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Caldwell did not kill Chicago police Cmdr. Bauer and he should not be held accountable for doing so. The way Caldwell sold firearms, however, made a tragedy almost inevitable.”

In court, O’Shea said Caldwell sold guns indiscriminately, and in doing so, “he clearly amplified the dangerousness of dangerous people.”

Even a month after Bauer’s death, after federal agents had come and seized his guns, Caldwell sold another gun to “a complete stranger,” O’Shea said, in the parking lot of a Walgreens drug store.

Caldwell’s lawyer, federal defender Peter Moyers, argued for probation, saying that others who had cases similar to Caldwell’s received far shorter sentences than the one sought by prosecutors. He also argued that Caldwell shouldn’t be punished for choices made by Legghette. If none of Caldwell’s guns had shown up at crime scenes, Moyers said he couldn’t argue for a lesser sentence because of it, and likewise, Caldwell shouldn’t be punished because one did.

“Bad luck shouldn’t aggravate a sentence if good luck can’t result in a windfall,” Moyers wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Moyers also argued that since being charged, Caldwell, a Vietnam veteran who has had physical and mental health challenges, has learned his lesson, expressed remorse for Bauer’s death and has vowed not to sell any more guns. He didn’t understand the trouble he was in before, Moyers said, but he does now. Without guns in his Far East Side home now, Moyers said, “he talks about it being a weight off. That matters.”

Caldwell declined to speak when given the chance by Peterson.