|ROANOKE, Virginia – Today, the Department of Justice announced it has charged more than 14,200 defendants with firearms-related crimes during Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, despite the challenges of COVID 19 and its impact on the criminal justice process. These cases have been a Department priority since November 2019 when Attorney General William P. Barr announced his commitment to investigating, prosecuting, and combatting gun crimes as a critical part of the Department’s anti-violent crime strategy. These firearms-related charges are the result of the critical law enforcement partnership between United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, led by Acting Director Regina Lombardo, who has made firearms-related investigations a priority.|
“The number one priority of government is to keep its citizens safe,” said Attorney General Barr. “By preventing firearms from falling into the hands of individuals who are prohibited from having them, we can stop violent crime before it happens. Violating federal firearms laws is a serious crime and offenders face serious consequences. The Department of Justice is committed to investigating and prosecuting individuals who illegally buy, sell, use, or possess firearms. Reducing gun violence requires a coordinated effort, and we could not have charged more than 14,000 individuals with firearms-related crimes without the hard work of the dedicated law enforcement professionals at the ATF, our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, and especially all of our state and local law enforcement partners.”
“Protecting the public from violent crime involving firearms is at the core of ATF’s mission,” commented ATF Acting Director Regina Lombardo. “Every day the men and women of ATF pursue and investigate those who use firearms to commit violent crimes in our communities, many of whom are prohibited from possessing firearms from previous convictions. ATF, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the nation, is committed to bringing these offenders to justice for their egregious and violent criminal acts.”
“Across the district we strive daily to bring impactful firearm cases and reduce violence in our communities. Recently we have redoubled our efforts to partner with the Roanoke City Police Department and federal law enforcement to share intelligence and adopt firearms cases, when possible, in the Roanoke Valley,” Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar said today. “In far Southwest Virginia, we are partnering with the Virginia State Police and ATF to target those individuals engaging in the business of selling firearms without a license. These important cases remove individuals who directly cause violence or put guns in the hands of those that do. We could not bring these cases without the close partnership of federal, state and local law enforcement, but we particularly recognize the good work of ATF, who are at the forefront of this fight.”
Of the more than 14,200 cases charged, 79 defendants have been charged in the Western District of Virginia, announced Acting United States Attorney Bubar.
Notable cases recently prosecuted in the Western District of Virginia include a number of prosecutions of felons illegally possessing firearms, straw purchases, and selling stolen firearms.
In August 2020, Luis Castano was sentenced to 96 months in prison after being convicted of illegal possession of a firearm by convicted felon. Castano, who was arrested after being pulled over for driving erratically, was found to be in possession of a Bushmaster, AR-style rifle. The rifle had a loaded, large capacity magazine containing 61 rounds of ammunition, with one round in the chamber.
In July 2020, John Webb was sentenced to 42 months in prison after being convicted of selling stolen firearms. Webb, a convicted felon, admitted to breaking into the home of a neighbor and stealing two shotguns, two rifles, and cash. Webb then took the stolen guns to Wytheville, Virginia where he sold them at a pawnshop.
In July 2020, Robert Joseph and Harold Gaines were sentenced for their roles in a conspiracy to illegally possess firearms. Joseph was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison. Gaines received a 48-month sentence.
According to court documents, Gaines paid Joseph to supply him with particular firearms and Joseph, in turn recruited, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms from gun stores in the Western District of Virginia. Joseph then delivered the weapons to Gaines in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. Gaines subsequently sold those weapons to others. Joseph obtained approximately 40 firearms for Gaines during the course of the conspiracy. Both Joseph and Gaines are convicted felons and are prohibited from legally possessing firearms
Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon, illegal alien, or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to illegally purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, is also a federal offense. The Department is committed to prosecuting these firearms offenses as well as using all modern technologies available to law enforcement such as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, known as NIBIN, to promote gun crime intelligence. Keeping illegal firearms out of the hands of violent criminals will continue to be a priority of the Department of Justice and we will use all appropriate, available means to keep the law abiding people of this country safe from gun crime.
For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see: https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/atf-form-4473 .