The owner of Lexington Market’s Utz Potato Chip stand illegally sold guns out of the market for years, according to federal authorities. The stand’s owner, 53-year-old Michael Papantonakis, and a woman described as his 21-year-old girlfriend, Sharon Jeanette Heberle, were charged March 31 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with being unlicensed gun sellers. In addition to detailing six transactions involving 13 guns since 2007, the nine-page complaint describes Papantonakis’ attempts to have someone beat up the market’s general manager Casper Genco, who also heads the Baltimore Public Markets Corporation.
Visited on April 6 by City Paper, Genco had no comment about either the gun sales or the threats against him, saying “I’m not aware of either of those things.”
Papantonakis has been detained, according to court records, and could not be reached. Heberle, contacted by phone, had no comment, nor did the U.S. Attorneys’ office for Maryland. Heberle’s mother, who has the same name and also works at the Utz stand, described recent law enforcement searches of the stand and the “commissary area in the basement of the market,” but otherwise had no details of the investigation. She said the Papantonakis family are the long-time owners of the Utz stand and directed questions to Stella Papantonakis, Michael’s sister.
Stella Papantonakis told City Paper that her family has owned the stand since 1947, and that her brother was being framed by a long-time friend of their family with a grudge against her, and that her brother was innocent.
“He’s my hero,” she said of her brother Michael. “He’s everything to me, my brother. He’s never been to jail, even for a parking ticket.”
The gun probe began with a May 2007 tip from Baltimore police detective Stephen Mahan to James Bradley Jr., an officer with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. According to court documents, Mahan told Bradley that a confidential source “had been purchasing firearms and cocaine” from Papantonakis. The law enforcers set up a buy and in September 2007, the source went to the potato chip stand, paid $650, and received a Beretta .380 firearm contained in a large white bag that was sold over the stand’s counter, according to the complaint.
The alleged gun sales by Papantonakis and Heberle to the source, and later to an undercover agent, continued, and grew to involve greater numbers of guns and more money. Some of the transactions occurred at the stand, some in the loading dock and parking lot of Lexington Market. The most recent one, according to the complaint, happened in late March out of a home at 1026 Boyd St., near Hollins Market. In that instance, Papantonakis sold an undercover agent three rifles—two 30/06s and an SKS—for $2,000, and showed the agent other firearms, presumably for potential sale.
During conversations quoted in the complaint, Papantonakis boasted of his ability to procure guns for buyers, telling the source, “You know they go quick. We’re real used to selling to Bloods and Crips.” He then warned the ATF informant that if they were stopped by the police, to say the guns were purchased in Shrewsbury, Pa. In another deal, earlier this year, he recounted a recent sale to the Hells Angels and explained difficulties he had getting machine guns. Papantonakis, the complaint recounts, said “he previously had several connects, one being a military guy where he could get M-16s, but since the ‘911 Incident’ he’d lost a lot of his connections and it had been hard to get fully automatic weapons.”
Papantonakis’ attempt to arrange a beat-down of Genco, according to the complaint, was conducted during a March 4 gun sale, during which an agent paid $1,500 for two guns packaged in an Utz potato chip box. Papantonakis said “he knew everything there was to know about Genco—what time he comes to work, what time he leaves work, etc.,” and that “he even knew where all the security cameras were.” When asked, he “stated that he didn’t want [Genco] killed, he just wanted him beaten.”
Later, on March 26, while arranging the rifle sale, Papantonakis allegedly expressed his desire to hurt Genco again. He said he wanted the attacker to use “a bat or something, just enough to break his arms and legs.”