Spokane – Today, the Department of Justice announced it has charged more than 14,200 defendants with firearms-related crimes during Fiscal Year (FY) 2020, despite the challenges of COVID 19 and its impact on the criminal justice process. These cases have been a Department priority since November 2019 when Attorney General William P. Barr announced his commitment to investigating, prosecuting, and combatting gun crimes as a critical part of the Department’s anti-violent crime strategy. These firearms-related charges are the result of the critical law enforcement partnership between United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, led by Acting Director Regina Lombardo, who has made firearms-related investigations a priority.
“The number one priority of government is to keep its citizens safe,” said Attorney General Barr. “By preventing firearms from falling into the hands of individuals who are prohibited from having them, we can stop violent crime before it happens. 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. 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 ATF, our U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, and especially all of our state and local law enforcement partners.”
“Protecting the public from violent crime involving firearms is at the core of ATF’s mission,” commented ATF Acting Director Regina Lombardo. “Every day the men and women of ATF pursue and investigate those who use firearms to commit violent crimes in our communities, many of whom are prohibited from possessing firearms from previous convictions. ATF, in collaboration with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the nation, is committed to bringing these offenders to justice for their egregious and violent criminal acts.”
United States Attorney Hyslop said, “Prosecuting firearm-related crimes continues to be a priority here in the Eastern District ofWashington. The number of firearms-related cases prosecuted in the past year is indicative of the close working relationship the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District ofWashington has with its federal, state, local and Tribal law enforcement partners and our joint commitment to making the community safer.”
Of the more than 14,200 cases charged nationally, 54 cases have been brought by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District ofWashington, announced U.S. Attorney Hyslop.
The following examples highlight some of the firearm-related cases prosecuted in the Eastern District of Washington during the past year:
Jesus Valencia-Morfin, a resident of Yakima, Washington, was sentenced to an 11-year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to drug trafficking. A firearm recovered during a search of his residence was linked via the NIBIN shell casing tracing system to a shooting on December 24, 2018, in Yakima, Washington. As a result, Valencia-Morfin pled guilty to Assault with a Deadly Weapon charges stemming from that incident in the Yakima County Superior Court as well.
Michael Lorenzo Martinez Castoreno, a resident of Moses Lake, Washington, was sentenced to a 9-year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea for possessing stolen firearms. Martinez Castoreno, a documented Sureno gang member, led police on a high speed chase that ended when he crashed into a police vehicle. Multiple stolen firearms were located in his vehicle.
Joseph Aarnes, a resident of Spokane, Washington, was sentenced to a 7.5 year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to possessing a stolen silencer. Aarnes was on Washington State Department of Corrections’ supervision at the time he unlawfully possessed the silencer.
Randall Gross, a resident of Coulee City, Washington, was sentenced to a 10-year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to drug trafficking charges. During a search warrant of his residence, an AR-15 assault rifle was located next to Gross’ bed.
Raymond Guerrero-Garcia, a resident of Toppenish, Washington, was sentenced to a 10-year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to discharging a firearm during a crime of violence. In a dispute that stemmed from the reported theft of drugs, Guerrero-Garcia, a documented Sureno gang member, approached the victim who had arrived to give condolences to Guerrero-Garcia for the death of his mother. Guerrero-Garcia pulled out a firearm and shot the victim. Guerrero-Garcia then entered the victim’s vehicle and stole property, including a stereo.
Francisco Salazar, Jr., a resident of Yakima, Washington was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of just over 7 years following his guilty plea to a drug trafficking offense and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. During a search of his residence stemming from a drug trafficking investigation in October 2018, law enforcement located a large quantity of fentanyl-laced pills as well as a firearm. Salazar, Jr. was released pre-trial on state charges. Months later, Salazar Jr., still on pre-trial release, continued to sell fentanyl-laced pills. Another search warrant was served on his residence and vehicle in September 2019. Fentanyl-laced pills and a loaded firearm were located.
Martel Chavez-Mendoza, a resident of Yakima, Washington was sentenced to a 14-year term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to a drug trafficking offense, which included the possession of approximately 90 pounds of methamphetamine. In addition to the drugs, search of Chavez-Mendoza’s residence also resulted in the seizure of multiple firearms.
Gary Jack Gallager, a resident of Colfax, Washington, was sentenced to an 85-month term of imprisonment following his guilty plea to felon in possession of a firearm.
Maria Andrea Gonzalez, a resident of Yakima, Washington, was sentenced to a 20-year term of imprisonment following jury trial convictions for possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, and felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, and also after having pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated sexual assault of a female federal inmate. When she was arrested, Gonzalez possessed 337 grams of methamphetamine, 135 grams of heroin, a loaded firearm and a large amount of U.S. currency. While awaiting trial, Gonzalez and several other female inmates sexually assaulted another female inmate while searching the other female inmate for drugs.
Gabriel Anthony Zavala, a resident of Yakima, Washington, was sentenced to a 10-year term of imprisonment for discharging a firearm at tribal officers on the Yakama Nation Indian Reservation. Tribal officers responded to the scene of a reported shooting, whereupon Zavala exchanged gunfire with the officers from his vehicle. No one was injured and Zavala managed to flee, but his DNA later linked him to the abandoned vehicle and firearm. Zavala was ordered to serve the federal sentence consecutively to a separate 20-year state term of imprisonment for a different assault involving a deadly weapon.
Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if the person falls into one of nine prohibited categories including being a felon, illegal alien, or unlawful user of a controlled substance. Further, it is unlawful to possess a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense or violent crime. It is also illegal to purchase – or even to attempt to illegally purchase – firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. Lying on ATF Form 4473, which is used to lawfully purchase a firearm, is also a federal offense.
The Department is committed to prosecuting these firearms offenses as well as using all modern technologies available to law enforcement such as the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, known as NIBIN, to promote gun crime intelligence. Keeping illegal firearms out of the hands of violent criminals will continue to be a priority of the Department of Justice and we will use all appropriate, available means to keep the law abiding people of this country safe from gun crime.
A recent study by the United States Sentencing Commission found that offenders convicted of a firearm offense were the most likely to be re-arrested after their release from incarceration at 68.3%. See Recidivism & Federal Sentencing Policy, Recidivism of Federal Offenders: A Comprehensive Overview, United States Sentencing Commission.
For more information on the lawful purchasing of firearms, please see: https://www.atf.gov/qa-category/atf-form-4473.