Utah ATF and Project Safe Neighborhoods Partners Net 170 Federal Gun Crime Defendents in 2009
SALT LAKE CITY, UT — -(AmmoLand.com)- Federal firearms charges ranging from possession of an illegal machine gun to using a gun in furtherance of violent or drug trafficking crimes were filed against 170 individuals in Utah during 2009.
Gun cases are investigated and prosecuted as a part of Utah Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a coordinated initiative targeting gun and gang violence in Utah communities. The initiative, which includes federal, state, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors, has been active in Utah for about 10 years. Utah has used Department of Justice funding to support a multi-jurisdictional task force housed at the ATF Field Office in Salt Lake City and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Jurisdictions around the state have worked with the special agents and task force officers to refer cases for investigation and prosecution.
The Utah PSN Task Force received national recognition for its work on several occasions, including awards recognizing the success of its partnerships in Utah, outstanding contributions by police officers and local prosecutors working with the task force, and media outreach efforts.
By way of comparison, 162 individuals were indicted in 2008, 204 in 2007, and 221 in 2006. Twelve indictments have been returned so far in 2010. While all violations of federal firearms laws are screened for prosecution, in recent years PSN officers and prosecutors have targeted firearms cases related to domestic violence, individuals with histories of violent crime arrests who were found in possession of a firearm, and individuals who make false statements on forms when purchasing firearm — “lie and buy” cases.
Of the 170 cases referred for prosecution last year, 143 targeted defendants were prohibited or restricted under federal law from possessing firearms. Included in the 143 are 92 individuals who had previous felony convictions; 35 individuals who were in the country illegally; nine individuals who were subject to a protective order or had previous domestic violence-related convictions; five who were addicted to drugs; one who was a fugitive; and one who was under indictment on another matter. (Federal law restricts individuals with felony convictions, drug addiction, domestic violence convictions, those subject to protective orders, those in the country illegally, or individuals under indictment from possessing firearms.)
Other PSN cases filed in 2009 include 35 defendants charged with possessing a firearm during the commission of violent or drug trafficking crimes. Eighteen defendants were charged with possession of stolen guns. Another 11 defendants were charged with possessing an unregistered firearm and two defendants were charged with stealing guns from a federal firearms licensee. Two defendants were charged with possessing a gun with an obliterated serial number. Individuals also were charged with possessing an illegal machine gun, transferring a gun to a juvenile and, lying on ATF forms to buy a gun. (Individual numbers add up to more than 170, because some individuals were charged with more than one count.)
“The goal of Utah Project Safe Neighborhoods is straightforward and clear — to disrupt gun violence strategically and comprehensively, using all available enforcement and prosecution tools and uniting federal, state and local efforts. We recognize that guns in the hands of convicted felons, individuals addicted to drugs or those engaged in violent crimes or drug trafficking offenses is a recipe for disaster in our communities,” Carlie Christensen, Acting U.S. Attorney for Utah, said today. “Project Safe Neighborhoods continues to be successful in Utah because of the consistently high level of cooperation between our partners.”
Melvin King, acting special agent in charge of ATF’s Denver Field Division, which includes Utah, said, “Today, more than ever, policing is a team effort if we are going to bring violent crime under control in our communities. ATF is grateful for the support and commitment of the state and local police departments who are supplying investigators and continued support for the PSN initiative.”
King also said it is important to understand that gun crime is not just a local or state issue. Criminals are passing guns from state to state and moving them into other countries, including Mexico and South America. “Violent criminals like these are our highest priority,” King said.
Examples of Informations/Indictments filed so far in 2010:
- David Tyrone Smith, 50, of Midvale, was charged in a two-count indictment returned Wednesday with retaliation against a federal official and possession of a firearm following a felony conviction. According to a complaint filed in the case, Smith was at the Social Security Administration office in Murray on Jan. 12, 2010, and became upset when he was advised that his disability claims had been denied. According to a complaint filed in the case, he made threats to shoot himself and others, including SSA employees or police officers. Smith ultimately left the SSA office. He was later arrested by Midvale police officers who found a .44 Taurus gun at Smith’s home in Midvale. Smith, who has a previous felony conviction, is prohibited from possessing a firearm.
- Ira Jay Walker, 33, and Christy Maria Carson, 27, both of Orem, are charged in an indictment returned Jan. 13, 2010, with possession of a stolen firearm. Walker also faces a one count of possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. Both counts carry potential 10-year sentences. Walker and Carson came to law enforcement’s attention in late November during an investigation of a stolen vehicle. The Orem Police Department officer investigating the case learned that a rifle was in the truck at the time of the theft. Information obtained during the course of the investigation led officers to Walker and Carson.
- Durango James Hart, 29, of Vernal, is charged in a one-count indictment with possession of an unregistered sawed-off shotgun. The charge carries a potential 10-year sentence. The charge against Hart stems from an investigation by the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office and the Vernal City Police Department.
- Jose Manuel Ortiz-Huerta, 33, of St. George, Utah, is charged in a felony information with being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. The charge carries a potential 10-year sentence.
Defendants charged in indictments or felony informations are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
Additional PSN case examples
- Troy Richard Opfar, 33, of West Valley City, charged in a two-count indictment returned in October 2007 with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, was sentenced to 96 months in federal prison (no parole) in July 2009 after pleading guilty to possessing two handguns. Opfar had previous convictions for possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, burglary, witness tampering, and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.
- Andre Mark Vasquez, 65, of Salt Lake City, who pleaded guilty in May 2009 to two counts of armed bank robbery, two counts of brandishing a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, two counts of bank robbery, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, was sentenced in August 2009 to 492 months in federal prison. Vasquez’ sentence included 32 years for brandishing weapons during the bank robberies. Before one of the robberies — a May 23, 2008, robbery of TransWest Credit Union in Sandy — Vasquez created a distraction by calling police and reporting that he had seen an armed person entering a local high school. He then robbed the credit union.
- Jonathan William Rodgers, 22, of the Salt Lake City area was indicted in September 2009 on two firearms charges, possession of a firearm and ammunition following a felony conviction and possession of an unregistered shotgun. According to a complaint filed in the case, U.S. Marshals in Utah learned that two individuals who were wanted by Wyoming officials for escape were in Taylorsville, Utah. Rodgers was one of those individuals. Law enforcement officers found the truck the suspects were driving at an apartment complex. The truck was observed leaving the apartment complex and driving to a store at 4700 South and Redwood Road in Taylorsville. When the suspects started to leave the store parking lot, law enforcement officers attempted to stop them. According to the complaint, the driver of the truck attempted to ram a police car and a pursuit was initiated. The truck ended up running through a fence and into a ditch in the Murray area. Occupants of the truck fled but were later apprehended. Jonathan William Rodgers was one of the individuals in the truck. Inside of the truck, officers found a maroon duffle bag and a black back pack. A 12 gauge sawed off shotgun with four rounds in it was found in the maroon duffle bag. In the back pack, officers found three boxes of shotgun ammunition. They also found items belonging to Rodgers, including a wallet, jail booking paperwork, and a West Valley City citation for jaywalking. As a convicted felon, Rodgers is prohibited from possessing a firearm or any ammunition. Rodgers pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in October and was sentenced Jan. 12, 2010, to 33 months in federal prison.
- Richard Reynolds Hill, 55, of St. George, was charged in May 2009 with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and drug charges. He was arrested in May when officers from the St. George Police Department and the Washington County Drug Task Force served a search warrant at his home and he was found in possession of a Glock 9 millimeter pistol. Hill, who according to the complaint has multiple convictions, is prohibited from possessing a firearm. He pleaded guilty Nov. 2, 2009, to the firearms charge. Sentencing in the case is set for March 1, 2010. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
More information about the ATF, Project Safe Neighborhoods and its other programs is available at www.atf.gov.