CHICAGO — John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, today provided an update on the cross-jurisdictional Firearms Trafficking Strike Force.
The Department of Justice launched the strike force in July 2021 to disrupt illegal firearms trafficking and reduce gun violence. Led locally by U.S. Attorney Lausch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office collaborates with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and other federal, state, and local law enforcement partners in the Northern District of Illinois and across the country to help stem the supply of illegally trafficked firearms and to identify patterns, leads, and potential suspects in violent gun crimes. The Chicago strike force’s efforts have been substantially enhanced by the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD’s) Gun Investigations Team.
According to gun trace data, a significant number of firearms recovered in Chicago originate outside Chicago and are illegally trafficked into the city. The strike force has strengthened coordination between law enforcement in Chicago and counterparts in the locations where many of the firearms originate. In providing the update on the strike force’s efforts, U.S. Attorney Lausch was joined by U.S. Attorneys from around the Midwest.
“Firearms traffickers and straw purchasers enable violence,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch. “Over the past year, the cross-jurisdictional strike force has increased collaboration with our law enforcement partners and enhanced our longstanding efforts to hold accountable individuals or groups who illegally traffic firearms into Chicago.”
“While I am the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, this Office will continue to recognize that combatting violent crime – particularly gun crimes – requires coordinated, multi-jurisdictional efforts among federal and state prosecutors and federal, state, and local law enforcement,” said Clifford D. Johnson, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. “We know that through these combined efforts the safety of the citizens in our respective communities is improved. We want all law-abiding citizens to be able to enjoy the many cultural, social, and recreational activities in the Chicagoland area without fear of violence.”
“Whether individuals are trafficking guns from Wisconsin into Chicago or sending guns from other states into places like Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha, we are fully committed to working with our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to hold firearms traffickers and straw purchasers fully accountable,” said Richard G. Frohling, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. “By working together – both within our districts and across the region – we can make all of our communities safer places in which to live and work.”
“Illegal firearms traffickers help fuel the horrific gun violence inflicted on our communities and families,” said Zachary A. Myers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “Working with law enforcement partners across agencies and jurisdictions, our office will continue to prioritize investigations and prosecutions that stem the tide of crime guns onto the streets of all of our communities and hold gun traffickers accountable.”
“Preventing gun violence is a top priority in our district and region,” said Gregory K. Harris, United States Attorney for the Central District of Illinois. “These cross-jurisdictional efforts to stem illegal firearm trafficking are an important tool in making our communities safer.”
“Reducing violent crime and gun crimes are top priorities of my office,” said Timothy M. O’Shea, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin. “The statements expressed here show that violent criminals cannot avoid federal prosecution by fleeing to another state. There is literally nowhere to run. We will work with our law enforcement partners across the Midwest to hold violent criminals and gun traffickers accountable and keep our communities safe.”
To investigate and prosecute cases as part of the strike force, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices work 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 Division (IRS-CI), and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS). State and local partners in the Northern District of Illinois include CPD, Illinois State Police (ISP), Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Cook County Sheriff’s Office, and the Rockford Police Department (RPD).
In the first year of the strike force, several dozen defendants have been charged or convicted in federal courts in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, as illustrated by the examples below.
Northern District of Illinois
- ARSHAD ZAYED, of Orland Hills, Ill., was charged with illegally selling 36 firearms, including “ghost guns” and machine guns, in the Chicago area. Many of the transactions occurred in a car wash that Zayed managed in the Chicago suburb of Matteson, Ill. The investigation was conducted by FBI, ATF, CPD, ISP, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.
- Two Indianapolis men – DEVANTE T. BROWN and COREY SARTIN – were charged with federal firearm violations for allegedly trafficking ten guns, including four semiautomatic rifles and two “ghost guns,” from Indianapolis to Chicago. The probe was led by ATF and CPD, with assistance from the Dolton, Ill., Police Department.
- Chicago resident ANTHONY PEREZ-FLORES was charged with trafficking more than a dozen guns, including a “ghost gun” and a machine gun, in Chicago. Perez-Flores was on parole for a state firearm conviction when he allegedly sold the guns to an undercover officer. ATF, CPD, and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office investigated.
- DEVON DOW, of Chicago, was charged with trafficking individually manufactured “ghost guns” in Chicago. Dow allegedly sold seven “ghost guns” to an undercover law enforcement officer on the city’s South Side. The firearms were considered “ghost guns” because they contained no identifiable serial number and had been manufactured from parts collected from various sources. HSI and CPD led the probe.
- Five men were indicted for allegedly trafficking guns from St. Louis to Chicago. The charges accuse ROBERT NARUP, of Washington, Mo., of buying firearms at gun shows throughout the United States and illegally selling them to JEROME BOYKIN, of St. Louis, Mo. Boykin then allegedly brought the guns to Chicago and sold them to ROGELIO MANCERA, of Schaumburg, Ill., in exchange for marijuana. The charges accuse Mancera, RODOLFO ORTEGA of Chicago, and HECTOR CHACON of Chicago, with selling the guns on the streets of Chicago. ATF and CPD’s Gun Investigations Team led the probe, with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri.
- A federal jury convicted JOSEPH GHANDOUR, of Glenview, Ill., of illegally selling a “ghost gun” to a convicted felon in a suburban Chicago grocery store parking lot. Unbeknownst to Ghandour, the felon to whom he sold the rifle was cooperating with law enforcement. FBI investigated.
- A man was indicted on firearm charges for allegedly straw purchasing 27 handguns from suburban Chicago stores. MATTHEW JAMAAL JOHNSON, of Dolton, Ill., allegedly falsely certified on federal forms that he was the actual buyer, when, in reality, Johnson purchased the guns on behalf of another individual. ATF and CPD led the probe.
- Chicago resident ISMAEL SENE was sentenced to a year in federal prison for straw purchasing handguns in the Chicago suburbs. In one of the transactions, Sene falsely certified on federal forms that he was the actual buyer. In reality, Sene purchased the gun on behalf of an individual whom Sene had reason to believe was a convicted felon who was prohibited by federal law from purchasing or possessing a firearm. ATF led the probe, with assistance from CPD.
- A suburban Chicago man was sentenced to eight and a half years in federal prison for trafficking dozens of guns from Kentucky to Chicago. Many of the guns trafficked by JOHN PHILLIPS, of Lyons, Ill., were later discovered by law enforcement at crime scenes in Chicago. The investigation was led by ATF’s Chicago office, with assistance from ATF agents in Louisville, Ky.
- PARIS STEELE, of Chicago, was sentenced in August to more than six years in federal prison for unlawfully dealing shotguns and other firearms in Chicago. While Steele was on bond and awaiting trial, he appeared in videos on social media holding a firearm and threatening violence against others. ATF and CPD conducted the investigation.
- A Chicago man was charged with making materially false statements in the acquisition of more than 20 firearms. STOVALL BUCHANAN acquired the guns from suburban Chicago firearms dealers and allegedly lied on federal forms about his home address and the actual buyer of the guns. ATF investigated, with assistance from CPD.
- Chicago resident JUSTIN GARCIA was charged in August with straw purchasing handguns in a suburban Chicago store on behalf of another individual. ATF investigated, with assistance from CPD.
- Two days after the fatal shooting of Chicago Police Officer Ella French, a Hammond, Ind., man was charged with conspiring to straw purchase the semi-automatic handgun used in the shooting. JAMEL DANZY pleaded guilty to the charge and admitted that he was a straw purchaser who bought the gun from a firearms dealer in Indiana at the request of a convicted felon who was found in possession of the gun after the shootings of Officer French and her partner. Danzy is awaiting sentencing. ATF and CPD led the probe.
Central District of Illinois
- JERON C. MCNEAL, of Peoria, Ill., was sentenced in October 2021 to a year in federal prison for his involvement in a burglary of a federally licensed firearms dealer and for giving false statements to federal law enforcement. A mob smashed the window of the business and approximately nine people entered the store and stole 29 firearms. McNeal drove a get-away car for some of the looters. McNeal’s sister, CHAYLA MCNEAL, was sentenced on the same charges in November 2021. Chayla McNeal stood outside the business, encouraged minor individuals to enter, and appeared to record the looting with her phone. Both McNeals also later lied to federal agents. In April 2021, one of the 29 guns stolen – an FNH 40 caliber pistol – was recovered by the Chicago Police Department.
- APRIL ALEXANDRIA SORIANO, of Springfield, Ill., pleaded guilty in October 2021 to making false statements during the purchase of multiple firearms. Soriano admitted to lying on ATF forms when she indicated she was purchasing the guns for herself when, in fact, she was buying them for someone else. An ATF gun trace revealed that Soriano purchased five firearms in 2019 and 2020. A 9mm Taurus handgun she purchased in East Peoria, Ill., was later discovered by law enforcement during a search of Soriano’s then-residence in Peoria, Ill. A second firearm – a 9mm Ruger handgun – that Soriano purchased in Springfield was later discovered in Chicago following a shooting incident where a victim sustained a gunshot wound.
Northern District of Indiana
- Twenty-four individuals were charged with violating various federal firearms laws, including the straw-purchasing of more than 150 firearms, lying about their eligibility to purchase more than 100 firearms, transferring firearms to a person who resided in another state, and engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license. Approximately 30 firearms illegally purchased in Indiana were recovered by law enforcement in Chicago and the Chicagoland area, with some of the firearms being linked to shootings and seized from prohibited persons. ATF led the investigations, with assistance from law enforcement throughout the Northern District of Indiana.
Southern District of Indiana
- Six individuals were charged with straw purchasing 90 firearms, more than 20 of which were later discovered at crime scenes in Chicago. ATF led the investigation, with assistance from law enforcement in Chicago.
Eastern District of Wisconsin
- In February, a Chicago man was indicted for an armed carjacking in Milwaukee. SHAMONTE BRYANT is alleged to have stolen a firearm during the carjacking, driven the stolen car and firearm from Milwaukee to Chicago, and used the firearm during a shooting in Chicago the following day. The case was investigated by FBI and the Milwaukee Police Department.
- In April, two individuals from Racine County, Wisc., were charged with conspiring to purchase firearms, alter/obliterate the serial numbers, and sell the firearms to others. As part of the conspiracy, DEANDRE L. RODGERS and VIRIDIANA GARCIA-RAMIREZ are alleged to have purchased at least eleven handguns and one rifle from local gun stores between December 2021 and March 2022. Garcia-Ramirez entered a guilty plea to the conspiracy in July 2022. Rodgers’s case remains pending. The matter was investigated by ATF and the Racine Police Department.
- Between July 2021 and July 2022, three previously convicted felons from Fond du Lac, Wisc. – TREON DENNIS, JASON SPINKS, and SHAKIE DAVIS – entered guilty pleas and were sentenced in federal court for conspiring to have an individual straw-purchase approximately eleven firearms. According to court records, three of the firearms were recovered at crime scenes in the Chicago area. Dennis and Davis were sentenced to 18 months in federal prison. In August 2022, a fourth individual charged in the case, JONATHAN GRIFFIN acknowledged the straw purchases and entered a guilty plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Griffin is set to be sentenced in November. The case was investigated by ATF and the Fond du Lac Police Department.
- In July, two individuals from Milwaukee – STEPHANIE GRIFFITH and WILLIE STATEN – were charged in federal court with straw-purchasing approximately 23 firearms. Staten also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Three of the firearms were recovered by law enforcement, including one in Illinois. Griffith pleaded guilty, while Staten’s case is pending. The case was investigated by ATF and the Milwaukee Police Department.
Western District of Wisconsin
- SAMUEL SCHILTZ, of Waunakee, Wisc., was sentenced to five years in prison for illegally selling two handguns installed with 30-round magazines and auto sears, which converted the guns into fully automatic machine guns. Schiltz, who was on probation for a felony drug crime at the time of the sale, told an undercover agent that he also sold cocaine and prescription opiates. Schiltz offered other firearms for sale, and he offered to install auto sears on other guns. The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation and ATF conducted the investigation.
In addition to the sustained focus on firearms trafficking prosecutions, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices endeavor to disrupt violent crime by seeking pre-trial detention for defendants who pose a danger to the community and by pursuing appropriate prison sentences to deter dangerous individuals from continuing to cause violence in their communities. Another critical aspect of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts is Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). PSN is an evidence-based program that focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs to pursue lasting reductions in crime.
“A primary goal of our office is to reduce violent crime, and we will continue to use every available federal law enforcement tool to keep people safe,” said U.S. Attorney Lausch.
The strike force’s efforts in Chicago and throughout the country remain active and ongoing. The public is reminded that charges are not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.