Thursday, September 30, 2021

Multiple Federal Indictments for Straw Purchases of Guns Allegedly Used in Violent Crimes in Chicago

 INDIANAPOLIS – On July 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice launched five cross-jurisdictional strike forces to help reduce gun violence by disrupting illegal firearms trafficking in key regions across the country. The purpose is to ensure sustained and focused coordination across jurisdictions and help stem the supply of illegally trafficked firearms from source cities, through other communities, and into five key market regions:  New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area/Sacramento Region and Washington, D.C.

 The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Indianapolis and Chicago Field Divisions, sought to identify firearms used in violent crimes in Chicago which had been illegally purchased in Indiana. By using the latest data, evidence, and intelligence from crime scenes, agents identified suspects in Indiana who illegally purchased firearms (through straw purchase schemes) and allowed the transit of those firearms to Chicago where they were eventually recovered at various crime scenes. A straw purchase scheme is when a person not prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm does so for the purpose of transferring that firearm to someone who is prohibited from purchasing or possessing a firearm. To date, 14 individuals have been indicted in 2021 in the Southern District of Indiana for straw purchasing and/or unlicensed dealing.

A federal grand jury in Indianapolis returned several indictments on September 8, 2021, charging six Indianapolis residents with multiple counts including making false statements during the purchase of a firearm, making false statements regarding information kept by licensed firearms dealers, unlawful possession of a firearm while under felony indictment, and the unlicensed dealing of firearms. Those six individuals are allegedly responsible for purchasing over 90 firearms since November 2020. More than 20 of those firearms were recovered in Chicago in various situations including murder scenes, the execution of search warrants, mass shootings investigations and an incident where a Chicago police officer was shot.

“Those who illegally provide firearms to others fuel the violent crime crisis facing many of our major cities” said Acting United States Attorney John Childress. “Despite the fact that those who illegally provide those firearms may never pull a trigger or brandish a firearm during a crime, they are significantly responsible for the destruction and harm resulting from the use of those firearms and as a result, will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted in the Southern District of Indiana.” 

“When people straw purchase firearms on behalf of those who are prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms themselves, they often end up in the hands of those who commit violent crime,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Kristen de Tineo of the Chicago Field Division. “ATF remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney's Offices throughout the country to investigate these firearms trafficking schemes and prosecute those responsible.”

One of the cases indicted on September 8, 2021, alleges that Tashia Overton, 21, of Indianapolis, purchased a firearm from a federal firearms dealer in Greenwood, Indiana. During the transaction, Overton allegedly provided false information regarding required paperwork for the purchase of the firearm. Four days after the purchase, investigators with the Chicago Police Department recovered the firearm during the commission of a crime in Chicago. ATF agents from the Chicago Field Division subsequently learned that within the span of 25 days Overton had purchased 31 firearms and subsequently sold them within three days of the purchases. To date, 6 of those firearms have been recovered in the Chicagoland area. The most recent recovery was from a mass shooting in Chicago. For each purchase, Overton provide false information to buy the firearms and is now subsequently charged with: Making a False Statement During the Purchase of a Firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6); Making a False Statement with Respect to Information Required To Be Kept By a Licensed Firearms Dealer, 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1); and Unlicensed Dealing in Firearms:18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(1)(A).

Another case indicted on September 8, 2021, involved the alleged illegal purchase of a firearm by Eric Keys Jr., 23 of Indianapolis.  According to court documents, in April of 2021, Chicago Police Department Officers responded to a shots fired incident. Upon arrival to the scene, officers located a 29-year-old man and a 6-year-old child sitting in a car. Both had been shot. The adult survived, the 6-year-old child did not. When law enforcement executed a search warrant on the suspected shooter’s residence, they located a firearm. Subsequent analysis by ATF determined that the firearm recovered was the weapon used to kill the minor child. It is alleged that the same firearm was illegally purchased by Keys Jr. in Indianapolis in March of 2021. As a result, Keys Jr. is charged with the following offenses:  Making a False Statement During Purchase of a Firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6) and Making a False Statement with Respect to Information Required To Be Kept By a Licensed Firearms Dealer, 18 U.S.C. § 924(a)(1).

In addition to Overton and Keys, the below listed individuals were also indicted September 8, 2021 on separate straw purchase cases:

  • Jordan Henry, 22, Indianapolis
  • Jayte Davis, 22, Indianapolis
  • Kwamay Armstrong, 29, Indianapolis
  • Charles Hunter, 22, Indianapolis

In addition, the eight individuals listed below have been indicted earlier this year in the Southern District of Indiana for separate straw purchase cases:

  • Edward Wilson, 22, Indianapolis
  • Traven Armstrong, 22, Indianapolis
  • Victor Anderson, 24, Indianapolis
  • Ernisha Collins, 30, Indianapolis
  • Kelvin Henderson, 21, Indianapolis
  • Ryanne Godfrey, 38, Indianapolis
  • Sierra Vasquez, 25, Indianapolis
  • Latasha Davis, 28, Indianapolis

If convicted, the defendants face up to 10 years imprisonment, up to a $250,000 fine and up to 3 years supervised release on each count. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The cases were investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Assistant United States Attorney Lawrence D. Hilton is prosecuting the cases.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. The Department of Justice reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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