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RICHMOND, Va. – Today U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger provided an update on the status of Project Guardian, our strategic effort to reduce violent crime and further enforce federal firearms laws across the Eastern District of Virginia, including here in Richmond.

“We are committed to combating violent crime and firearms offenses in our Richmond Division,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “The prosecutors of the Eastern District, in conjunction with ATF and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, are doubling down on illegal firearms offenses through Project Guardian.”

Project Guardian is the Justice Department’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. Click here for more information about Project Guardian.

Project Guardian in EDVA localizes the Justice Department’s national effort, and expands upon the current partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia, the ATF, and Metro Police Department, and now also includes the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Maryland and the Western District of Virginia, and the Virginia State Police.

During Fiscal Year 2020, from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, the Richmond Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged approximately 55 defendants with firearms-related offenses, including straw purchases, illegal possession of firearms by previously convicted felons and other prohibited persons, and carrying, brandishing, or discharging a firearm during a crime of violence or in relation to a drug trafficking offense. These defendants were involved in the unlawful purchase and/or possession of over 175 firearms, of which more than 100 firearms have been recovered and seized by law enforcement.

Recent Project Guardian cases in Richmond

U.S. v. Robert Graham and Rashad Fraierson

Fraierson and Graham robbed the Powhatan Drug Pharmacy, and the Bremo Pharmacy, in Henrico, in order to steal narcotics, including Oxycodone, Oxycontin, and other substances. In the first robbery, in July 2019, Graham placed a false 911 call regarding a threat of an armed person at a local high school. As law enforcement was diverted, which was Graham’s and Fraierson’s intention, Graham and Fraierson entered Powhatan Drug Pharmacy, brandished a firearm, forcibly tied up the pharmacist using zip-ties, and robbed the pharmacy of various narcotics. Before they fled, the two men stole more than $33,000 worth of drugs. The second robbery occurred in November 2019, when they used the same techniques to rob the Bremo Pharmacy, and stole more than $20,000 worth of drugs. Fraierson, who was previously convicted of three felony drug trafficking crimes in 2002, 2003, and 2015, was sentenced on October 1 to 26 years in prison. Graham was sentenced on October 9, 2020 to over 14 years in prison.

U.S. v. Travis Ball

On June 18, 2020, Ball was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his illegal possession of a firearm that was used to kill Virginia State Police Special Agent Michael Walter in May 2017. Ball shot and killed Special Agent Walter during a traffic stop in the Mosby Court public housing community in Richmond. At the time of the murder, Ball possessed a FIE, model Titan, .25 caliber, semi-automatic pistol. Believing that he was wanted in Lancaster County for a probation violation, Ball resisted arrested and shot Special Agent Walter once in the head. Text messages found on Ball’s cellphone later revealed that two days prior to the murder he told his girlfriend he was not going back to jail and would “end up killing something.” The sentence imposed in this case runs consecutive to the 36-year sentence for capital murder that Ball received in the City of Richmond Circuit Court related to the murder of Special Agent Walter.

U.S. v. Antonio Smith

On October 6, 2020, Smith was sentenced to four years in prison for possession of a firearm by convicted felon. According to court documents, Smith was observed by Richmond Police with two firearms after several previous convictions for felonies. In September 2019, Richmond Police were called to the scene of a domestic assault, and observed Smith on the front porch of the residence. Smith then quickly ran inside, only to emerge from the back door of the residence a few seconds later. Police asked Smith to stop, but he continued around the building and ran up to an occupied vehicle that was parked on the street. At that time, the police officer observed Smith toss two firearms into the vehicle. Smith was arrested at the scene and the firearms were recovered. At sentencing, Smith received an enhancement for reckless endangerment to the occupants of the vehicle.

U.S. v. Shamel McLaughlin

On October 7, 2020, McLaughlin, a previously convicted felon, was sentenced to over 12 years in prison for his possession of a firearm and possession of distribution amounts of cocaine hydrochloride and cocaine base following a vehicular pursuit in the City of Richmond. According to court documents, in October 2019, McLaughlin engaged Richmond Police Department (RPD) officers in a high-speed vehicular pursuit in a residential neighborhood in the City of Richmond. Upon stopping his vehicle, RPD officers apprehended McLaughlin after a brief foot pursuit. A search of McLaughlin revealed a baggie with 3.45 grams of cocaine hydrochloride and 15 grams of marijuana. Following McLaughlin’s arrest, RPD officers discovered inside his vehicle a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver, 17 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition, 2.49 grams of cocaine base, and small amounts of heroin and fentanyl. Based on his two prior drug distribution convictions, the Court sentenced McLaughlin as a career offender.

U.S. v. Vincent Rashad Gordon, et al.

On January 21, 2020, indictments were returned against Vincent Rashad Gordon, Davard Rasheed Anderson, Shaquinta Latoya Monroe, and Rahmer Raheem Scott for their respective roles in a conspiracy to straw purchase firearms. Each defendant allegedly entered into a conspiracy to assist Gordon with acquiring firearms he could not legally purchase. As a part of the conspiracy, Anderson, Monroe, and Scott would go into a licensed firearms dealership and purchase firearms at the direction of Gordon, who would tell them which firearms to buy and would provide them the money to purchase the firearms. To complete the purchase, the co-conspirators allegedly lied on ATF Form 4473, by affirming that they were purchasing the firearms for themselves when they were actually purchasing firearms for Gordon. Anderson purchased 54 firearms for Gordon; Monroe purchased 18 firearms for Gordon; and, Scott purchase 9 firearms for Gordon. Scott was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Monroe was sentenced to three years’ probation. Gordon is scheduled to be sentenced on November 16, 2020. Anderson is scheduled to be sentenced on December 7.

More information on Project Guardian in EDVA can be found here.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

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