SF police make unexpected bust of firearms trafficking ring in South San Francisco

When local police served a search warrant at a suburban South San Francisco home last week in connection with a suspect in a string of robberies across The City, they made an “unexpected” discovery: an arsenal of weaponry, said Lt. William Braconi.

San Francisco police, accompanied by a tactical team from San Mateo county, on June 3 seized 38 firearms, a bomb-making kit and explosives from the 100 block of Nursery Way. Officers arrested 31-year-old Austen Chin in connection with four robberies committed in San Francisco throughout April and May.

Of the guns retrieved, 22 of them are assault weapons, 12 are handguns, two are bolt-action sniper rifles and two are shotguns, police said. A bomb squad unit responded to the scene and used a robot to recover the destructive devices.

An investigation into where the weapons came from and why they were in the home is underway, and could be taken over by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, police said. No registered owners have been identified for any of the weapons.

But the investigation so far has revealed “these guns were meant for a price to be trafficked onto the streets of the Bayview district,” said police Chief Greg Suhr, noting that the seizure has the potential to reduce homicide rates in The City.

“In the Bayview district where I work, assault-type weapons are used very often as weapons in gunfights,” said Braconi, who is investigating the case. “This may be a potential source for those weapons that we find in the Bayview.”

One of the handguns is believed to have been used in the four recent armed robberies in San Francisco that led police to the home. The robbery spree was dubbed by police the “Letterman Robbery Series” because one of the thieves wore a letterman-style jacket.

Police later identified the alleged robber as Homer Matthews, 56, of San Francisco, and arrested him around 1 a.m. May 24 at La Salle Avenue and Third Street.

Chin and Matthews were booked in connection with robberies that began April 22, when they allegedly held up a gas station near San Bruno Avenue and Woolsey Street in Portola. Two days later, they allegedly struck again, this time at a store in the Marina near Divisadero and Lombard streets.

The following month, Matthews and Chin are said to have robbed another gas station on the 100 block of Bayshore Boulevard on May 17. Then May 19, they reportedly committed “one of the more serious robberies” when they held up a grocery store near Precita Avenue and Folsom Street by Precita Park, Braconi said.

“Two of the employees were taken from the street, moved into the store, constituting kidnapping,” Braconi said of the grocery store incident.

A vehicle was used in the crimes, police said. It was later recognized by an officer and led police to Chin, which resulted in the South San Francisco bust.

Police arrested Matthews when officers recognized him from a crime-alert bulletin.

Matthews and Chin will be tried by state or federal courts in relation to the guns, while the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office is expected to handle the robbery charges, Braconi said.

They were booked into San Francisco County Jail on robbery- and kidnapping-related charges.

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