U.S. Attorney announces reduction in gun-related violence

NEWARK, NJ — The Department of Justice announced Oct. 13 that it charged more than 14,200 defendants with firearms-related crimes during Fiscal Year 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on the criminal justice process. Of those cases, 342 have been brought by the District of New Jersey, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

These firearms-related charges are the result of the 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 No. 1 priority of government is to keep its citizens safe,” Attorney General William Barr said. “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.”

“When I became U.S. Attorney more than two years ago, I emphasized that our most important job is protecting the public,” Carpenito said. “Project Guardian is one of the best strategies we have to accomplish that mission. By coordinating with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we have pursued and prosecuted those who violate our firearms laws, and helped to reduce gun violence in our state.”

“Protecting the public from violent crime involving firearms is at the core of ATF’s mission,” Lombardo said. 

The Department of Justice announced its commitment to decreasing gun violence and enforcing federal firearms laws in an effort to make the communities in America safer through Project Guardian. As part of this strategy, Project Guardian focuses on close coordination with all law enforcement partners to investigate, prosecute and prevent gun crimes, including the illegal acquisition or attempted acquisition, possession, use and trafficking of firearms.

Under federal law, it is illegal to possess a firearm if you fall into one of nine prohibited categories, including being a felon, undocumented resident 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 purchase — firearms if the buyer is a prohibited person or illegally purchasing a firearm on behalf of others. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey has continued its long-standing partnerships with federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies to implement Project Guardian and has renewed its commitment to prosecute firearms offenses. 

For example, on May 6, Jonathan Brown, 26, of Covington, Ga., was arrested for trafficking multiple firearms from Georgia to Jersey City; the guns were subsequently used in acts of violence. Brown was charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit the unlicensed sale of firearms. Brown led a scheme to purchase firearms in or around Georgia and traffic those firearms to individuals in Jersey City. Brown, who is barred from purchasing firearms himself due to multiple prior felony convictions, used straw purchasers in Georgia to obtain the firearms so that he could sell those firearms to others. On multiple occasions, Brown brought firearms from Georgia to New Jersey for sale. Within months of Brown’s trips to Jersey City, law enforcement arrested numerous individuals in Jersey City in possession of firearms purchased by Brown’s straw purchasers. At least one of the weapons trafficked by Brown was later used in the shooting of another person in Jersey City. At least one of the individuals in possession of one of Brown’s guns had a prior felony conviction, and was therefore barred from possessing a firearm. To date, law enforcement has recovered seven firearms allegedly trafficked by Brown in Jersey City.

On May 29, a New Jersey man with a prior felony conviction was charged with unlawfully possessing dozens of firearms, including handguns, rifles, a silencer, ammunition and high-capacity magazines. Darick Nollett, 30, of Heislerville, was charged by criminal complaint with one count of unlawfully possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, and one count of knowingly receiving and possessing a firearm that was not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. Law enforcement officers executing a court-authorized search warrant of Nollett’s residence recovered a firearm silencer, 11 rifles, two revolvers, one semiautomatic pistol, seven handguns, one tactical pistol, nine shotguns and one semiautomatic shotgun. Law enforcement officers also recovered an assembled AR-15–style rifle with scope that did not bear a serial number, along with unassembled parts for another AR-15 style rifle.

On June 1, Ibraaheem Islam, aka “Ish,” 32, was charged by superseding complaint with three counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. Those charges stemmed from Islam’s involvement in narcotics-trafficking activity on a regular basis in the vicinity of Chadwick Avenue in Newark. Law enforcement obtained warrants to search two vehicles and one residence associated with Islam. On May 30, law enforcement recovered a 5.7x28millimeter caliber FN Herstal model “FN Five-Seven” pistol, loaded with 17 rounds of ammunition; 194 vials containing suspected cocaine base; and 64 glassine envelopes containing suspected heroin.

On July 20, Tevin Browning, 29, of Newark, was charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit carjacking, one count of attempted carjacking, one count of discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, and one count of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a convicted felon following his alleged involvement in a July 9 attempted carjacking in Jersey City during which a victim was shot in the abdomen. Police officers found a spent .45 caliber shell casing stamped “Blazer .45 Auto” in the area. A search warrant of an involved vehicle produced a .45 caliber Hi-Point Model JHP semiautomatic handgun, bearing serial number 406099, which was loaded with four rounds of ammunition. Two of the rounds were stamped “Blazer .45 Auto” on the shell casing.

On Oct. 7, Benjamin Daye, 34, admitted to robbing a Camden barbershop at gunpoint on Nov. 23, 2019. Upon entering the barbershop, Daye grabbed a juvenile customer, pointed a loaded gun at the customer’s head, and demanded cash and belongings from employees and customers. Daye fled and was apprehended shortly thereafter next to a bag containing the handgun and the stolen items.

These are just a few examples of the cases brought in the district of New Jersey under Project Guardian. Between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the district of New Jersey charged 342 individuals with gun offenses. Of those individuals, 252 were prior convicted felons who were prohibited from possessing firearms and almost 90 possessed firearms in furtherance of, or in relation to, drug-trafficking offenses or crimes of violence, such as carjackings and shootings.

The charges and allegations pending against all defendants are merely accusations, and they are presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty.