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Federal Firearm Prosecutions in Fiscal Year 2020 Remained Steady Despite Challenges of COVID-19

CHICAGO — John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, today provided an update on federal prosecutions and strategies to combat violent crime in Chicago and the surrounding area.

The centerpiece of the federal fight against violent crime continues to be the revitalized Project Safe Neighborhoods, as well as Project Guardian, which focuses on firearms prosecutions, and Operation Legend, the Department of Justice’s recent initiative to address violent crime in several U.S. cities, including Chicago, which has been facing a significant increase in homicides and shootings.  These initiatives have enabled the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago to sustain significant levels of federal prosecutions of violent offenders despite the recent unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite a global health crisis that continues to impact the criminal justice system, our office has maintained or exceeded its recent levels of prosecutions of violent criminals, including trigger-pullers, carjackers, and those who illegally use and possess firearms,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.  “We are using every available federal law enforcement tool to reduce violent crime in Chicago and hold violent offenders accountable.”

“The number one priority of government is to keep its citizens safe,” said Attorney General William P. Barr.  “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.”

According to preliminary data for the 2020 Fiscal Year, which ended Sept. 30, 2020, 262 defendants were charged with a firearm offense in the Northern District of Illinois.  This number is higher than 14 of the previous 15 years, with the lone exception being 2019, which had 8% more firearm defendants.  The number of firearm defendants in FY20 was 33% higher than 2018, and 48% higher than 2017, according to preliminary data.  These increases were particularly significant considering that, prior to 2019, the 2018 and 2017 fiscal years stood as the two highest years of federal firearm defendants in more than a decade.

The sustained focus on federal prosecution of firearm offenses in the Northern District of Illinois was enhanced by Operation Legend, which launched in Chicago in July.  Under Operation Legend, approximately 176 defendants have been charged with federal offenses impacting violent crime in Chicago, including 130 charged with firearms-related offenses, 40 charged with narcotics-related offenses, and 6 charged with other violent crimes.  Approximately 1,057 defendants have been charged throughout the country under Operation Legend, including 568 with firearms-related offenses, 411 with narcotics-related offenses, and 78 with other violent crimes.

“The number of violent crimes in Chicago remains stubbornly high, including homicides, shootings, and carjackings, and we have seen troubling increases in these areas in 2020,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.  “Our goal as federal prosecutors is not simply to bring more cases against more defendants, but rather to reduce violent crime, and one way to do that is by continuing to bring quality, impactful cases.  As federal prosecutors, we endeavor to disrupt violent crime by seeking pre-trial detention for defendants who pose a danger to the community, employing federal resources to enhance law enforcement’s efforts to build strong cases, and pursuing appropriate sentences in federal prison to deter dangerous individuals from continuing to wreak havoc in our neighborhoods.”

Nationally, the Department of Justice announced last week that more than 14,200 defendants were charged in federal courts across the country with firearms-related crimes during Fiscal Year 2020. 

“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 U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, and especially all of our state and local law enforcement partners,” said Attorney General Barr.

Through enforcement actions, prosecutions, and community partnerships, the U.S. Attorney’s Office works to reduce violent crime and make neighborhoods safer.

Enforcement Actions and Prosecution Activity

The U.S. Attorney’s Office works closely with U.S. law enforcement agencies, including ATF, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) to investigate and prosecute a variety of violent crimes.  State and local partners in this effort include the Chicago Police Department (CPD), Illinois State Police (ISP), Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Rockford Police Department, and other local departments throughout northern Illinois.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Gun Crimes Prosecution Team continues to enhance the prosecution of illegal firearm possession in certain police districts in Chicago.  Working collaboratively with federal and local law enforcement, the team focuses on charging Chicago’s most dangerous criminals quickly after arrest, endeavoring to disrupt the cycle of violence in the neighborhoods most in need.

“Our Gun Crimes Prosecution Team has had tremendous success investigating and prosecuting firearms cases from those Chicago neighborhoods suffering from the most violent crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.  “Our partnerships with CPD and other state and local law enforcement have never been better.”

Firearm and violent crime investigations in Chicago have also been bolstered by an important tool from ATF: the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN).  NIBIN is the only national network that allows for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms.  NIBIN is a proven investigative and intelligence tool that can link firearms from multiple crime scenes, allowing law enforcement to quickly disrupt shooting cycles.  Federal, state and local law enforcement in Chicago have used NIBIN extensively to help solve violent crimes and prosecute trigger-pullers and other gun offenders.

Following up on the activities our office reported in October of last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office remains active in fighting violent crime through various enforcement actions, prosecutions, and sentencings, as illustrated below: 

Gang-Related Prosecutions

“Combating the unacceptable level of gang violence in Chicago has been and will continue to be a top priority in our office,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.

  • ALONZO G. HORTA, a member of the violent Latin Kings street gang, was sentenced last month to 27 years in prison for engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity that included murder.  Horta fatally shot Alfonso Calderon on the Southeast Side of Chicago in 2017 because Horta suspected Calderon was a member of a rival gang.  Horta was named with more than 30 other alleged members of the Latin Kings in an indictment that charged numerous other murders, attempted murders, and arsons.  The case was investigated by FBI, CPD, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and the Hammond, Ind., Police Department.
  • DARNELL MCMILLER, the alleged leader of the Black Disciples street gang in Chicago, was among 23 individuals charged in July as part of a federal investigation into drug and gun trafficking on the city’s South Side.  Several other alleged high-ranking members of the Black Disciples were also charged, including the leader of the gang’s “Dog Pound” faction.  Law enforcement seized 24 firearms and more than 13 kilograms of cocaine during the probe, which was led by FBI, CPD, ATF, DEA, and IRS-CI.
  • “Operation Full Circle” and “Operation Wicked Stones” targeted two street gangs responsible for firearms offenses, narcotics trafficking, and violence on the West Side of Chicago.  During the probe, 24 defendants were charged, and law enforcement seized 34 firearms, more than six kilograms of heroin, more than 17 kilograms of cocaine, more than a kilogram of fentanyl, and more than $1.3 million in cash and jewelry.  The multi-year investigation was led by ATF, DEA, IRS-CI, HIDTA, and CPD, with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force (HIDTA), and assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
  • Racketeering charges were unsealed in March against ten alleged members of the LAFA street gang for allegedly participating in a criminal organization that murdered its rivals and violently protected drug-dealing territories on the South Side of Chicago.  The charges accuse five alleged LAFA members of committing murder in furtherance of the gang’s activities.  The indictment also charged attempted murders and several firearm offenses.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office worked closely in the investigation with FBI and CPD, with support from OCDETF.
  • JASON BROWN, also known as “Abdul Ja’Me,” the alleged leader of the AHK street gang, which is based in the Chicago suburb of Bellwood and comprised of former members of other gangs, including the Black P Stones, Gangster Disciples, and Four Corner Hustlers, was charged with attempting to provide material support to ISIS.  Six other alleged AHK members or associates were charged separately with federal drug offenses.  The case was investigated by the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, CPD, IRS-CI, ISP, USPIS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, HSI, Lombard, Ill., Police Department, and Addison, Ill., Police Department.

Firearm Trafficking and Firearm Theft Prosecutions

“Straw purchasers and firearms traffickers enable unlawful possession of guns and the violence that may follow,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.  “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners, including our colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana, to hold accountable those who engage in illicit firearm transactions.”

  • Earlier this month, WAYNE ADAM TUCKER, of Albion, Ind., was charged with illegally selling 39 handguns and assault rifles in the Chicago area.  In setting up the deals with an individual who was confidentially working on behalf of law enforcement, Tucker explained that he obtained the guns from people who purchased them at gun shows in Indiana.  The probe was led by FBI and CPD.
  • Last month, BRIAN HAYWOOD, of Hammond, Ind., was charged with “straw purchasing” guns in Indiana on behalf of a convicted felon in Chicago.  On three occasions this summer, Haywood allegedly purchased the guns and falsely certified on federal forms that he was the actual buyer.  The investigation was led by the FBI.
  • A suburban Chicago man was sentenced in January to eight years in prison for stealing guns from a licensed firearms dealer.  KEVIN CULPS, of Dolton, stole or attempted to steal guns from firearms dealers in Manteno, Loves Park, and Tinley Park.  Two co-defendants were also convicted and sentenced to prison terms.  ATF led the investigation, with assistance from the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office, CPD, and Police Departments of Loves Park, Manteno, Tinley Park, and Lombard.
  • OMRAN ISMAIL, of Burbank, was sentenced in December to a year and a half in prison for conspiring to straw purchase handguns on behalf of a woman who allegedly tried to smuggle the firearms into Egypt.  The guns were discovered in the woman’s checked luggage at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago as she attempted to board a flight to Cairo, via London.  The investigation was conducted by HSI, CBP, and CPD.

Carjacking and Robbery Prosecutions

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office works closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement to prosecute violent crimes, such as carjacking, that violate federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.

  • ELIAS QUINONES-FIGUEROA, of Chicago, was charged last month with carjacking a 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe sport-utility vehicle from a victim in the city’s West Town neighborhood in May.  Quinones-Figueroa allegedly brandished a handgun during the carjacking.  The probe was led by FBI and CPD, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
  • In August, MICHAEL C. PEARSON, of Chicago, was charged with carjacking a 2006 Buick Lucerne from two victims in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.  Pearson allegedly discharged a handgun during the carjacking, but fortunately neither victim was wounded.  The case was investigated by FBI and CPD, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
  • DARIUS D. YOUNG, of Berwyn, was arrested on a federal criminal charge for allegedly robbing a United Parcel Service delivery truck in Oak Park in August.  The driver was ordered to lay face down in the street while Young and two others allegedly removed boxes from the truck and drove off.  FBI and the Oak Park Police Department participated in the investigation.
  • A federal jury in November convicted IVAN PARKER, of Chicago, of robbing an ATM technician at gunpoint in the city’s Little Village neighborhood.  Parker pointed a handgun at the technician’s head and used pepper spray on him before grabbing a bag containing $106,335.  Parker is awaiting sentencing.  FBI led the probe.

Illegal Possession of Firearms Prosecutions

“If you are a felon and thinking about picking up a gun in Chicago, you should expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and face the possibility of going to federal prison for a long time,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.

  • CHAWAN LOWE, of Chicago, was sentenced last month to seven and a half years in federal prison for illegally possessing a loaded semiautomatic handgun in the city’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood.  As a convicted felon, Lowe was prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm.  The case was investigated by ATF and CPD, with assistance from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
  • In July, convicted felon ANTOINE JACKSON, of Chicago, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for illegally possessing a loaded gun in the city’s Avalon Park neighborhood.  The semiautomatic handgun had a 16-round magazine and was capable of accepting an even larger capacity magazine.  ATF and CPD conducted the probe.
  • In the first federal prosecutions in Chicago under Operation Legend, three individuals were charged in July with illegally possessing guns or ammunition in various parts of the city this summer.  One of the firearms was a machinegun.  ATF and CPD led the investigation.
  • Several individuals were charged with federal firearm offenses for allegedly illegally possessing guns during periods of civil unrest in Chicago this summer.  The federal defendants include ADAM WALTON, of Chicago, who was arrested in June after Chicago Police officers observed him exiting a store through a broken window while in possession of a loaded semiautomatic handgun and a case of .22-caliber long-rifle ammunition; and JAVONTE T. WILLIAMS, of Chicago, who allegedly possessed a loaded gun while looting a store in downtown Chicago in August.
  • A Chicago man who allegedly pointed a loaded semiautomatic handgun at a federal agent in June was charged with a federal firearm offense.  The agent had approached JOSEPH HAMMOND in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood while investigating a report of a man holding a gun and a toddler.  ATF and CPD led the probe.
  • Two roommates were charged in federal court with illegally possessing handguns and trafficking cocaine out of their apartment in Oak Park.  Law enforcement searched the apartment of ISAIAH INGRAM and KEVIN HAGER and discovered five semiautomatic handguns, all of which were loaded.  The case was worked by FBI, CPD, and the Oak Park Police Department.
  • A suburban drug dealer was sentenced in December to 12 years in prison for illegally possessing narcotics and a loaded semiautomatic handgun.  EFREN GUTIERREZ illegally possessed the firearm and narcotics in Burbank in 2017.  The gun was loaded and had a .45-caliber magazine attached to it.  FBI and CPD led the probe.
  • A federal jury in December convicted RAMONE SHAFFERS, of Chicago, of illegally possessing a loaded handgun with an extended magazine in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.  The jury also found Shaffers guilty of obstructing justice for offering to pay witnesses to lie on his behalf.  ATF and CPD led the investigation.  Shaffers is awaiting sentencing.
  • A convicted felon was sentenced in December to nearly seven years in federal prison for illegally possessing a loaded handgun and 61 rounds of ammunition in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago.  ANTONIO BROWN, of Chicago, was previously convicted in state court of the attempted armed robbery of a nail salon.  He was released from state prison seven months before the illegal gun possession that led to the federal charge.  The probe was led by FBI and CPD.
  • A federal judge in December sentenced a Chicago man to more than 16 years in prison for shooting an ATF agent.  ERNESTO GODINEZ shot the agent in 2018 in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago.  The agent was wounded in the head but survived.  ATF led the investigation, with assistance CPD, FBI, USMS, HSI, DEA, and ISP.

Opioid Prosecutions

Opioids are a class of highly addictive drugs that includes heroin, fentanyl, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.  Public safety is being threatened by unprecedented levels of opioid misuse, addiction, and overdose.  The Department of Justice is committed to using every available tool to enforce federal drug laws and combat the opioid epidemic. 

In the Northern District of Illinois, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has deployed a strategy of aggressive investigations and prosecutions of those who are most responsible for this epidemic.  This includes prosecuting the leaders of traditional drug trafficking organizations, as well as rogue healthcare providers, pharmacists, pharmacist technicians, and others who contribute to the supply and overuse of opioids. 

“The current opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.  “We are actively attacking this crisis from all investigative and prosecutorial angles.”

  • WILLIAM TOWNSEND was charged last month with selling wholesale quantities of heroin and fentanyl in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago.  During the investigation, which was led by the FBI, law enforcement seized approximately $469,000 in cash and approximately a kilogram of suspected heroin.
  • Eighteen individuals were charged this summer as part of “Operation Monticello’s Revenge” with conspiring to sell heroin or fentanyl-laced heroin.  Law enforcement during the DEA-led probe shut down a busy open-air drug market in the 1000 block of North Monticello Avenue in Chicago.
  • CHARLES KINDRED, of Chicago, was charged in May with selling fentanyl-laced heroin in a store parking lot in Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood.  Unbeknownst to Kindred, the buyer was cooperating with law enforcement.  DEA led the investigation, with assistance from the Oak Lawn Police Department.
  • A federal grand jury in May indicted MITCHELL DWAYNE SIMMONS, of Chicago, for allegedly trafficking fentanyl-laced heroin and illegally possessing a loaded assault rifle while on parole from a previous drug conviction.  The investigation was conducted by ATF and CPD.

Other Significant Drug Trafficking Prosecutions

The U.S. Attorney’s Office targets traffickers who bring illegal drugs into Illinois from other states or countries, with a focus on organizations or individuals who use guns, violence and threats of violence to protect and promote their illegal businesses.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office works directly with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office to ensure that individuals trafficking drugs are charged with appropriate offenses in either federal or state court.

  • In “Operation Dirty Ice,” 13 defendants were charged this summer with participating in a drug trafficking operation that distributed at least 25 kilograms of heroin to customers in Chicago.  The street-level sales allegedly occurred at two open-air drug markets in the city’s Austin neighborhood.  The investigation was conducted by FBI, IRS-CI, and CPD.
  • In July, five individuals were charged as part of an FBI and CPD investigation into cocaine trafficking in the West Ridge neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side.
  • FELIPE CABRERA SARABIA, a former high-ranking member of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was extradited to Chicago from Mexico in June to face federal drug charges.  Cabrera Sarabia is accused of conspiring with other Sinaloa Cartel members to transport multi-ton quantities of illegal drugs into the U.S.  DEA and IRS-CI conducted the probe.
  • Ten defendants were charged in May as part of a DEA-led investigation that disrupted a Mexico-to-Chicago cocaine pipeline.  The alleged drug sales occurred in the South Loop and Streeterville neighborhoods of Chicago, as well as suburban locations.
  • A federal jury in March convicted a Chinese national of laundering illegal narcotics proceeds on behalf of drug traffickers in Mexico.  XIANBING GAN schemed to have $534,206 in narcotics proceeds picked up in Chicago and transferred to various bank accounts in China, in order for the money to ultimately be remitted to the Mexican traffickers.  Gan is awaiting sentencing.  HSI and IRS-CI conducted the probe.
  • A suburban man was sentenced in November to 15 years in prison for his role in transporting various narcotics into the United States from China and selling it on the streets of Chicago.  NESTOR BURGOS, of River Grove, also possessed two handguns and a silencer in furtherance of his drug trafficking activities.  HSI and USPIS conducted the probe.

Community Partnerships

The revitalized PSN program continues to invest resources in violence-prevention initiatives.  Members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office have participated in offender notification meetings and youth outreach forums.  Even during the current COVID-19 pandemic, these meetings and forums are still being held, including in a virtual environment, to maintain the outreach to former offenders.

Offender notification meetings provide an opportunity for individuals who have been convicted of a state or federal offense to make an informed choice not to engage in further criminal activity.  Researchers at Arizona State University found that the forums have a positive influence on the offenders’ perception of police and help create an understanding that criminal activity results in a higher risk to return to prison.  Researchers at Yale University found that ex-offenders who attend an offender notification meeting in Chicago are  30% less likely to commit a new offense than those who did not attend a meeting.

The quarterly youth forums assist children aged 13-17 to identify a path other than gang membership.  The youth forums are conducted in partnership with CPD, the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, and the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which tracks the progress of the children to assess results.

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