A man who allegedly asked police about security at town council meetings after threatening council members was arrested recently after he lied about his address to buy several guns.
Federal and local officers arrested Robert Howarth on Feb. 20 without incident at his apartment at 209 S. Ponderosa St. He appeared in a Maricopa County courtroom, pleaded not guilty to falsifying federal forms and was released.
The Payson Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) would give few details on the case, but the Roundup obtained a copy of the criminal complaint against Howarth, which laid out the investigation.
On Feb. 8 and then again on Feb. 14, Howarth went to Rim Country Guns off Highway 87. The first time he bought a Glock .45-caliber pistol and then he came back for a Century 7.62-caliber pistol, according to the seven-page complaint.
Both times, Howarth stated on federal forms that he lived in Show Low. Officials later learned he hadn’t lived there for some time.
On Feb. 19, Howarth called the PPD and spoke with officer Brandon Buckner. Howarth reportedly asked Buckner what security measures the town had in place for the Feb. 20 council meeting.
He also asked if an officer would search him if he attended.
That same day, Payson Police contacted the ATF, which launched an investigation. An ATF special agent learned Howarth had previously threatened Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and a Payson council member (the council member’s name was not listed on the complaint). In June of 2013, Howarth had also reportedly complained to town staff. While he did not make any direct threats, town staff said they felt threatened by Howarth’s tone and comments.
Howarth frequently calls into local radio talk shows to make comments. He has complained on air that fireworks pose a health and fire hazard.
He has also complained that the county health department and other officials don’t enforce regulations on smoking inside buildings — or near the entrance to buildings.
Working quickly after receiving the inquiry from Payson Police, an ATF agent came to Payson Feb. 19 and spoke with the owner of Rim Country Guns Scott Helmer. Helmer explained he had sold Howarth several firearms. Often, Howarth would buy a gun and then weeks later sell it back to Helmer, sometimes at a loss, according to the complaint.
For every sale, Howarth used the same Show Low address, which matched the address on his driver’s license.
Show Low Police detectives went to Howarth’s Show Low address Feb. 19, but the home appeared unoccupied.
A check of the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division database listed Howarth’s address on South Clark Road in Payson.
Officers believed Howarth, however, had actually been living on South Ponderosa Street.
They based this on several interactions they had with Howarth at that address.
First, officers watched Howarth enter and leave the apartment complex at the Ponderosa address starting in June after he complained to town staff. They continued to monitor him until July 4.
Then, during the second week of January, Police Chief Don Engler contacted Howarth at the Ponderosa address after Howarth allegedly harassed staff at the Gila County Health Department and county supervisors.
Next, on Jan. 27, Howarth filled out a form requesting to ride along with a police officer. He listed the Ponderosa address on the form (the PPD denied his request).
Finally, on Feb. 19, after talking with Buckner, Howarth came into the PPD and asked to file a complaint with Engler. Since Engler was not there, Lt. Woody Eldredge spoke with Howarth. Howarth would not tell Eldredge his complaint, but Eldredge did confirm with Howarth his address on Ponderosa Street.
With search warrants in hand, local officers and the ATF went to the Ponderosa address and arrested Howarth.