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How federal agents traced the guns after shooting of a Phoenix police officer

Three people were charged with helping the alleged shooter buy or possess firearms
Posted at 10:15 PM, Sep 08, 2023

In the hours after Phoenix Police Officer Tyler Moldovan was shot in the line of duty, federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives got to work tracing multiple firearms found at the scene.

“Opened up a very large investigation where you had a federal firearms licensee that was complacent and did not follow the regulations,” said Brendan Iber, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division.

Iber said illegal gun trafficking is a critical part of his agency's mission, especially as the Valley continues to see an increase in violent crime and firearms in the hands of felons who can’t legally have them.

“We can trace a firearm and figure out what that first legal purchase was, but that's when the investigation starts,” Iber explained.

ATF’s investigation in the Moldovan case led to the arrest of three people who’ve since pleaded guilty to helping the alleged shooter, Essa Williams, illegally buy or possess firearms.

Williams' girlfriend Alice Berdicchia, his mother Erika Williams, and Dwayne Anderson, a licensed Phoenix gun dealer, were all charged.

Essa Williams is a convicted felon and legally barred from having firearms, but police said he had three different pistols with him the night of the shooting. Officer Moldovan was shot multiple times and suffered life-changing injuries after responding to a street racing call almost two years ago.

“These individuals that are getting caught with firearms that cannot legally possess firearms to begin with are getting them somehow,” said Brendan Iber, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Phoenix Field Division.

According to court documents, a licensed Phoenix gun dealer helped Williams illegally purchase one of the firearms just hours before Moldovan was shot.

Anderson told investigators he “met Essa Williams at a gun show,” and offered to help him buy a gun and “avoid a background check.” Records show Williams sent Anderson a text with a photo ID of a female he’d never met. Anderson used the female’s false information to fill out paperwork to buy the gun including “her signature.”

Anderson then sold the pistol directly to Williams at his Phoenix home for “$230 in cash,” according to court documents.

“The firearm was then recovered on the scene where that individual actually shot the Phoenix police officer,” Iber said.

The gun Williams bought from the gun dealer was not used to shoot Officer Moldovan, but investigators said they found it in the back of Williams' car that night.

Officers found another gun, a Glock, on a patio where police said Williams was hiding right before the shooting.

Agents obtained text messages between Williams and his girlfriend Berdicchia, from the month before the shooting, which showed she previously brought the firearm to Williams knowing he was a felon and couldn’t have guns.

In the text exchange Williams said, “Pullin' in bring da Glock with ya,” and Berdicchia responded, “Ok.”

Court documents show Berdicchia also told police she went with Williams to both “Phoenix and Tucson gun shows in the last two months to purchase multiple firearms in private sales.”

Williams’ mom pleaded guilty to helping her son buy another gun that wasn’t recovered at the shooting scene.

It’s not clear how Williams obtained the gun used to shoot Moldovan, but he is facing state charges for illegally possessing all three firearms.

Iber said tracing firearms illegally in the hands of felons is one of his top priorities and the ATF won’t stop with only the gun used in a police shooting as this investigation highlights.

“We know when they’re used illegally, it’s not a good thing,” Iber said. “We are putting a dent in it. We are stopping it.”

A judge recently sentenced Dwayne Anderson, the licensed Phoenix gun dealer, to six months in prison.

Williams’ mom and girlfriend are both scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Williams' state trial is set to start at the end of the month.