Felon accused in gun scheme denied pretrial release

U.S. Magistrate Clifton L. Corker on Thursday denied pretrial release for a convicted violent felon indicted for trading heroin for firearms purchased in Cocke, Hamblen and Sevier counties, and it didn’t appear to be a very close call, according to court documents.

Charles Koerner, 40, was once sentenced to 20 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery and escape. Two firearms he obtained in East Tennessee and sold to customers in New Jersey have been linked to attempted murders there, according to Corker’s detention order.

A federal grand jury indicted Koerner for arms trafficking and illegal possession of firearms, but he’s also facing cocaine charges in Cocke County Criminal Court. He was holding 10 bags of cocaine and $4,000 in cash when he was arrested in June 2017, according to the federal magistrate.

“Thus, it appears he is involved in both firearms sales and drug distribution during the same time period – a combination that poses a real danger to the community by any standard,” Corker’s order states.

A federal prosecutor further alleged that Koerner, who has a history of missing court dates, threatened to shoot one of his codefendants – either Newport resident Zachary Strom or Aaron Turner, both 27 – when he learned he was the target of a criminal investigation, according to Corker.

Koerner’s connection to New Jersey remains unclear. When he was arrested on the cocaine charge, he gave the Newport address of his girlfriend and codefendant, 38-year-old Kizzy Jackson. Koerner sought to postpone Thursday’s detention hearing because Jackson could not attend the hearing, and she was expected to vouch for him.

The most favorable testimony from Jackson would not have helped.

“Her credibility would not be an issue because the court could not have considered her as a third-party custody,” Corker’s order states.

Koerner represented that if he were allowed pretrial release to his girlfriend’s residence, he could secure employment at Taco Bell, according to the order.

In another federal prosecution that originated in Cocke County, Joshua Burgin, who earlier pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm in connection with a luckless hunting trip in November 2016, was sentenced to two years in federal prison.

Burgin, 37, was loaded for bear and the dog that was running in front of him had one treed when two wildlife officers, who were on routine patrol in rural Cocke County, paused to view the hunting drama playing out before their eyes, according to a factual basis of the crime.

When Burgin arrived in a pickup, he took a high-powered rifle from a large toolbox. A wildlife officer recognized Burgin and knew he was a convicted felon who could not legally possess firearms or ammunition, according to the court document.

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