Jacksonville Man Pleads Guilty To Armed Drug Trafficking

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Jacksonville, Florida –United States Attorney Roger B. Handberg announces that Vershaun Lamar Puzie (33, Jacksonville) has pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Puzie faces a minimum mandatory term of imprisonment of ten years, and up to life, in federal prison.

According to the plea agreement, on January 1, 2019, officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) encountered Puzie in the area of 31st Street and Silver Street after Puzie jumped out of a car during a traffic stop. Puzie then fled on foot. As he fled, Puzie ingested an item. A JSO officer who was chasing Puzie tased him and took him into custody on the ground, at which point Puzie was still chewing the item he had ingested. Officers commanded Puzie to spit out the item, which contained rocks of crack cocaine mixed with other material. Upon tracing Puzie’s flight path, officers located a torn baggie with drug residue and a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber pistol in plain view that Puzie had tossed over a fence.

On July 16, 2020, JSO officers were dispatched to the Hometown Inn & Suites located on Mustang Road. An officer arriving on scene observed Puzie in the parking lot; Puzie began to walk quickly into the Hometown Inn & Suites upon the arrival of the officer’s patrol car. The officer pursued Puzie on foot into the hotel lobby and then up an interior stairwell of the hotel while commanding Puzie to stop. While going up the stairs, the officer heard a thud as Puzie discarded a Smith & Wesson 9mm caliber pistol and cell phone on the stairs. Puzie ran across the hotel and down another stairwell and outside, where he was taken into custody by the officer. A second officer recovered the pistol from the stairwell. While fleeing, Puzie again ingested a quantity of cocaine base that he had intended to sell. Puzie entered a state of excited delirium as a result of ingesting the drugs and was transported to a hospital.

Puzie admitted in his plea that he had possessed both pistols to protect himself while he possessed with intent to sell crack cocaine.

Puzie agreed to forfeit both of the pistols that had been recovered by JSO, which were involved in the offense.

This case was investigated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor.

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This case was prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.