Justin Johnson

Justin Johnson

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URBANA — An employee of a local store who allegedly used a suspense movie gimmick to steal guns after hours remains in the county jail in lieu of $250,000 bond.

Justin W. Johnson, 29, of the 900 block of North Gregory Street, Urbana, was arraigned Wednesday for burglary, unlawful use of weapons by a felon, theft over $500, and aggravated possession of stolen firearms.

According to Champaign police reports, officials at Rural King, 913 W. Marketview Drive, contacted police Sunday to report guns had been stolen from a secure storage area.

Video surveillance showed a man entering the locked gun storage room through the ceiling about 1 a.m. on Aug. 1, and taking multiple boxes that contained six different kinds of handguns.

Managers identified the suspect as Johnson, who worked a 9 p.m.-to-6 a.m. shift stocking shelves.

Late on Monday and early Tuesday, police went back to the store for Johnson’s next scheduled shift and watched on surveillance cameras as Johnson entered the locked gun room through the ceiling.

When his shift was over, police approached Johnson near his car and a tracking dog reacted to something in the car. A search of Johnson’s car turned up a backpack with cannabis, a credit card in his name, and a handgun manual for one of the guns stolen the previous week.

Champaign police Lt. Nate Rath said police have not recovered the guns and continue to investigate.

Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Banach, who laid out the facts for Judge John Kennedy so Kennedy could set bond, said that Johnson had prior convictions from Cook County for theft and retail theft.

Of the four felony counts against Johnson, the most serious is the aggravated possession of stolen firearms. It’s a Class 1 felony carrying penalties upon conviction ranging from probation to four to 15 years in prison. Burglary is a Class 2 felony and the theft and unlawful use of weapons are Class 3 felonies.

Six years ago, burglars broke in the same store and smashed cases to steal 24 handguns and one rifle in two burglaries within a week of each other in late August and early September. Several of those guns turned up later in area crimes.

Just last November, burglars got in that store and the Rural King in Rantoul in search of guns. They fled the Champaign store empty-handed but made off with two long guns from the Rantoul store. One adult and two teens were prosecuted and imprisoned for those burglaries.

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Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is mschenk@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).