FRESNO, Calif. — As part of an ongoing concerted effort by local and federal law enforcement to address the significant uptick in violent crime in the City of Fresno, a federal grand jury returned indictments today against two Fresno residents with being a felon in possession of either a firearm or ammunition, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
“We are fully committed to working with local law enforcement in the City of Fresno and Fresno County to reduce violent crime there,” said U.S. Attorney Scott. “Both defendants charged today have multiple felony convictions including firearms related ones. In short order, six men have been indicted and face federal charges in support of this effort by law enforcement to reduce violence. We’ve just gotten started, and we’re not going away.”
Lane Kelly Whittenberg, 32, was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. According to court documents, on Oct. 27, Whittenberg was involved in a verbal dispute at a restaurant and was observed to be in possession of a firearm. As police approached the location, they heard two gun shots, later determined to be fired by Whittenberg. Inside Whittenberg’s car, police saw a handgun on the front passenger seat. Whittenberg has been convicted of reckless evading of a peace officer and robbery in 2014, and possession of a firearm by a felon in 2018.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Fresno Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Antonio J. Pataca is prosecuting the case.
Simon Meza Jr., 38, was charged with one count of being a felon in possession of ammunition that was found in his loaded gun. According to court documents, Meza was driving while not wearing his seatbelt, and officers tried to conduct a traffic stop. Meza continued to drive, at times recklessly. Officers discontinued the pursuit but later located Meza’s vehicle abandoned at a business on South Sarah Avenue. They found Meza hiding in a nearby park. Meza was allegedly seen discarding a bag containing a loaded firearm and a wallet with Meza’s California identification card inside. According to Fresno County Superior Court records, Meza has multiple prior convictions for illegal weapons and drug possession.
This case is the product of an investigation by Homeland Security Investigations, the Fresno Police Department, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Tankovich is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Whittenberg and Meza face a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
These cases are 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. To learn more about Project Safe Neighborhoods, go to www.justice.gov/psn.
These cases are also part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. For more information about Project Guardian, please see www.justice.gov/projectguardian.