SAN JOSE – The Office of the United States Attorney has filed federal firearms charges against nine individuals in connection with a crackdown against illegal firearms trafficking and possession, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) San Francisco Field Division Special Agent in Charge Patrick T. Gorman; and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agent in Charge Wade R. Shannon.
The operation, spearheaded by the ATF, involved close coordination with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the California Highway Patrol, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, the Salinas Police Department, and the Watsonville Police Department. The operation reflects the continued efforts of federal and state law enforcement to work jointly to combat violent crime in South Bay counties by targeting the illegal sale of firearms and the illicit possession of firearms. In addition to federal charges levied against nine defendants, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office has filed similar charges against a number of defendants that stem from same operation.
“This operation has removed over 80 firearms from the street, including privately made firearms also known as a “ghost guns” and conversion devices that enable firearms to function as fully automatic weapons,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Hinds. “Operations such as this one target the pipeline of firearms to the street. By reducing the availability of illegal firearms, we take an important step toward reducing violent crime.”
“Earlier this year, the Department of Justice announced the launch of Cross- Jurisdictional Firearms Trafficking Strike Forces,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Gorman. “The Cross-Jurisdictional Firearms Trafficking Strike Forces were developed to help reduce gun violence by disrupting illegal firearms trafficking in key regions across the United States. The Bay Area was listed as one of those key regions. ATF works closely with our partners to track the illegal movement of firearms which creates an avenue for criminals and violent offenders to gain access to firearms. There were numerous firearms seized in this case that we allege were trafficked across state lines. We will continue to work diligently alongside our partners to honor our commitment to reducing violent gun crime in our communities.”
Criminal complaints were filed against the nine federal defendants on November 2, 2021; the complaints were unsealed earlier today. The complaints are supported by five separate affidavits that describe the alleged crimes, including the dates that the defendants unlawfully possessed and sold guns, as well as the types of guns that were sold. According to the affidavits, between February of 2020 and September of 2021, ATF, utilizing undercover methods, purchased from the nine federal defendants a total of at least 35 firearms (including machine guns), numerous rounds of ammunition, and quantities of methamphetamine. Additional firearms were seized from defendants who were charged in the Monterey County courts as part of the same operation. The sales occurred in various locations in Salinas and Watsonville, including the parking lots of local businesses and the defendants’ residences. In addition, at least 50 firearms were seized in connection with the arrests of the defendants on November 4.
The affidavits also describe the wide variety of firearms and ammunition that were purchased from the defendants during the operation. The weapons purchased were handguns, including handguns with high-capacity magazines; rifles, including a short-barreled rifle; shotguns, including a short-barreled shotgun; and machine guns. The complaints also allege that many of the defendants sold privately manufactured firearms, also known as “ghost guns.”
Further, as described in the affidavits, ATF purchased eight machine gun conversion devices – called “switches” or “sears” – from the federal defendants. According to the complaints, a switch is a machine gun conversion device that allows a semi-automatic firearm to function as a fully automatic weapon. The sear functions similarly. According to the complaints, the switches were used to convert semi-automatic pistol-type weapons to fire fully automatically and the sear was used to convert a semi-automatic AR-type rifle to fire fully automatically. The possession and/or transfer of these devices are illegal under federal law.
Six of the defendants are alleged to be convicted felons, and therefore, ineligible to possess firearms under federal law. In addition, each of the defendants facing gun charges is alleged to have either engaged in the business of dealing firearms without a license, or to have illegally possessed firearms, or illegally transferred firearms as follows:
In connection with the arrests of the defendants today, ATF seized approximately 50 firearms, including AR-type rifles, short-barrel rifles, shotguns, handguns, ghost guns, a machinegun, and over 5000 rounds of ammunition. Additionally, ATF made an arrest in Madera, California, that stemmed from this operation. The suspect was charged by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California by complaint alleging a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(o) (illegal possession and transfer of a machinegun) and 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d) (possession of an unregistered National Firearms Act weapon)
The some of the defendants are anticipated to make their initial federal court appearances on November 5, 2021. The criminal complaints merely allege that crimes have been committed, and each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Neal C. Hong is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Elise Etter. These prosecutions are the result of investigations by the ATF in coordination with the DEA, California Highway Patrol, the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Monterey County Sheriff, and the police departments of Salinas and Watsonville.
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