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A man accused of stealing checks, including several sent for birthdays, and using them to illegally buy firearms was sentenced last week in federal court to 40 months in prison.

Justin Bruce Arch, 37, was indicted in October 2017 on 13 charges related to a scheme to steal checks from 200 people, many of whom were elderly residents of an assisted-living facility, and use those checks to illegally buy at least eight pistols and rifles, U.S. District Court documents show.

Arch was accused of devising a “straw-buying” scheme with his wife, Lisa Jalena Laurelez, in which they used the stolen checks and credit cards to buy the firearms from online dealers in Utah and Texas, court documents show. When the guns arrived in Arizona, Arch and Laurelez lied about being the actual purchasers of the firearms.

Arch pleaded guilty in May to one count of aiding and abetting the making of a false statement in connection with the acquisition of a firearm. The remaining charges were dismissed.

Laurelez faces the same charges as Arch and is scheduled to be sentenced Dec.19.

Arch “preyed upon” the elderly, some of whom were low-income and relied on the money that was stolen from them, prosecutor Angela Woolridge told Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson at a Nov. 5 sentencing hearing.

The indictment involves about $9,000 worth of harm to individuals and firearms dealers, according to a sentencing memorandum submitted by Douglas Tyler Francis, Arch’s court-appointed defense attorney.

The indictment listed 51 checks Arch and Laurelez were accused of stealing, including 11 that totaled more than $6,000. The remaining 40 checks were drawn on credit card accounts and did not have a specific amount listed in the indictment.

Four of the stolen checks had memo lines wishing the recipients well, including a check for $817 with “Happy Birthday xoxo” written in the memo line, according to the indictment.

When law enforcement agents searched Arch’s home in September 2017, they found stolen checks and mail, along with credit and debit cards, some of which Arch and Laurelez manufactured. Agents also found credit card readers and blank credit cards, Woolridge wrote in the memorandum.

They also found multiple drugs, including heroin, morphine and marijuana, and drug paraphernalia, Woolridge wrote.

Agents also found ammunition, two loaded firearms and a Border Patrol ballistic vest, Woolridge wrote. Francis told Jorgenson the ballistic vest did not belong to Arch.

Arch admitted to law enforcement agents of having trafficked firearms to drug cartels in Mexico, Woolridge wrote.

Woolridge said Arch’s case was “far more serious” than most weapons-trafficking cases. Most weapons cases involve either straw-buying firearms or trafficking firearms to Mexico, but Arch’s case involves both.

Arch admitted in court to having a drug problem and stressed that he was trying to turn his life around and to keep his family, stating he was trying to “continue to live within the boundaries of the law.”

In his memo, Francis wrote that some of the items found in Arch’s home were consistent with someone who is severely addicted to drugs and trying to maintain his addiction.

Jordan Williams is a journalism student at the University of Arizona and an apprentice at the Arizona Daily Star. Contact her at starapprentice@tucson.com