Colt Pistols With Civil War Connection Figure
In Fraud Case
By Deborah Fitts
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - Three Colt pistols associated
with major Civil War figures were cited in a fraud case that
resulted in the convictions of two firearms dealers.
Michael Zomber of Franklin, Tenn., and his associate, Richard
Ellis, 42, of LaClaire, Iowa, were found guilty of conspiracy to commit
fraud. Ellis pleaded guilty in February 2003 and agreed to cooperate
in the case against Zomber. Zomber was found guilty Dec. 15
following a trial in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Goldman, Zomber
and Ellis engaged in a "scheme to defraud" Joseph Murphy, described
as "a millionaire businessman" living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania,
who has amassed a $30 million collection of Colt firearms.
Goldman said the two men used "false and fraudulent pretenses,
representations and promises" to induce Murphy to buy Colts
at inflated prices. Specifically, they produced letters for Murphy
hiking the value of the guns and indicating there were other
buyers at the inflated prices, prompting Murphy to top what he thought
was a genuine offer by another collector.
Murphy paid $3.2 million for four Colt pistols named in the
case. One, a "Union & Liberty" revolver, has provenance
from the family of U.S. Grant. The Model 1860 army pistol was manufactured by Colt
Zomber and Ellis bought the gun for $175,000 in December 1998.
According to Goldman, they paid another firearms dealer $25,000
to sign a letter portraying himself as the owner, and offering
to sell the pistol for $1 million. Murphy paid $725,000 for it in February
Murphy also has a pair of Model 1861 navy Colts that were owned
by Robert Anderson, who commanded the garrison at Fort Sumter in
April 1861. The Anderson Colts were not included in the evidence against
Zomber and Ellis.
Goldman said the case grew out of leads that were developed
during an investigation into a celebrated fraud that involved two
military-relic experts who appeared regularly on PBS's popular
Russ Pritchard III, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., and George Juno, of Fort
Lauderdale, Fla., then principals in the American Ordnance
Preservation Association, were exposed for setting up fake appraisals
on "Roadshow" in order to boost their reputations.
Their greatest notoriety came from defrauding a descendant of Confederate Gen.
George Pickett of hundreds of thousands of dollars for his ancestor's
In the Zomber and Ellis case, Goldman focused on four Colts.
Besides the U.S. Grant family pistol, they included the two "Walker"
Colts, which were presented by Samuel Colt in 1847 to Capt. Samuel
Walker of the Texas Rangers. Walker himself had asked Colt to design a
large-caliber weapon for close-in Indian fighting, and Colt
responded with the 4.5-pound, .44-caliber weapon. He made only 1,100 of
the guns. Walker was killed just four days after receiving the pistols.
Around January 1997, Ellis and Zomber bought one of the Walkers
for $600,000. Zomber "created a false letter" representing
that he had a buyer willing to pay $1 million, Goldman said. Murphy then made
the purchase for $1 million plus a $50,000 commission to Ellis,
although the "true value" of the gun was about $500,000.
The two men then bought the second Walker for $500,000 worth
of guns. They sold it to Murphy for $1.25 million.
The fourth gun in the case was a Colt 1862 police revolver that
Zomber and Ellis purchased in March 1999. Zomber wrote a letter
to Ellis "which falsely represented that Zomber would purchase
the Colt police from Ellis for $250,000," Goldman said. Murphy then
paid $250,000 for the gun, although the "true value" was
Goldman noted that, because Ellis in 1997 became Murphy's sole
agent to make the Colt purchases, he not only profited from the inflated
prices of the guns, but from a 10 percent commission he received
for each buy.
Sentencing of the two men could come as early as March. Goldman
noted that sentencing guidelines call for prison sentences.
In the "Antiques Roadshow" case, Pritchard III was
sentenced to one year in prison and ordered to pay $830,000 in restitution to
his victims. Juno was sentenced to six months in a halfway house
and ordered to pay $70,000 in restitution and a $30,000 fine. Pritchard's
father, Russ Pritchard Jr., of Memphis, the third principal
in their business, who played a minor role, was sentenced to six months
in a halfway house and ordered to pay $35,000 in restitution after
being convicted for stealing a uniform from a museum.