Sixty people were indicted and 110 firearms were seized as part of a months-long enhanced enforcement initiative targeting the criminal possession, use and sale of firearms in Greater Cleveland, law enforcement officials announced Friday.
42 people were indicted in federal court while 18 people were indicted in state court. Charges include engaging in the business of dealing firearms without a license, being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, possession of unregistered firearms that had been modified (sawed-off shotguns), possession and sale of firearms with obliterated serial numbers and related drug counts.
The indictments are the result of "Operation Samson II". The first group used undercover operations to investigate people known to criminally possess, use and sell firearms, as well as people possessing firearms while conducting drug activities. The second group, referred to as the "Follow the Gun Group," used firearms trace data and ballistics information from the National Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN) to pursue leads related to firearms that have been diverted from legal commerce to criminal use. Many of those investigations remain ongoing. The third group involved ATF Industry Operations conducting inspections at Cleveland-area federal firearms licensees to ensure that dealers are selling firearms in accordance with federal law and regulations.
"Preventing violent crime and apprehending violent offenders are vital components of ATF's commitment to public safety because firearms-related violence should not be considered part of everyday life. This collective operation is helping make that possible for the citizens of Cleveland," ATF Director B. Todd Jones said.
"Gun crime is far too prevalent in our community, and the Department of Justice is working with the City to not just talk about that problem, but to do something about it," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said. "This summer, our office and the ATF have doubled down on that commitment here, by targeting some of Cleveland's most violent felons and working with our local partners to take them, and some of their considerable weaponry, off our streets. We need an all-of-the-above approach to fighting gun violence, and today's announcement reminds us that targeted enforcement remains and important part of that approach."
"Gun violence in Cleveland is often the result of guns in the hands of felons who do not have the right to have a gun. I'd like to thank the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for working with our Cleveland police this year to take a significant number of these illegal firearms off our streets," said Mayor Frank Jackson.
"These arrests will destabilize the market in the illegal gun trade," Prosecutor Tim McGinty said. "These weapons are constantly found to be used by those who deal in illegal drugs and commit other violent offenses. This program is a step toward a safer community."
Still on the loose are Stephen Beverly, Terelle Brown, Markus Kirks, Juan Hernandez Vasquez and Theodore Travis.
The hope is that the federal infrastructure that will be left behind will allow the war on guns to continue locally for years to come.
Below are details of selected cases:
United States v. Kali Alexander et. al.: An 11-count indictment was filed charging five people with using firearms as part of a drug conspiracy, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and felons in possession of firearms.
Alexander, 24, of Willoughby Hills, recruited Rasheam Nichols, 24, Justin Maxwell, 26, Terrance Chappell, 22, and Kenneth Flowers, 21, all of Cleveland, to steal up to nine kilograms of cocaine from a stash house in Cleveland. The group planned to rob the stash house, then Alexander would sell the stolen cocaine and split the profits, according to the indictment.
Alexander met with an undercover ATF agent in August and expressed an interest and willingness to commit the robbery. "I promise you, I know what I'm doing, I'm about to holler at my big brother, then we going to orchestrate it from there." On September 3, Alexander, Nichols, Maxwell, Chappell and Flowers met with the ATF undercover and discussed the strategy for the robbery. Then the five men drove to agreed-upon location in anticipation of acquiring a specific vehicle to use during the robbery, at which point they were arrested, according to the indictment.
United States v. Juan Davis: Davis, 25, of Cleveland, was not a licensed firearms dealer but sold five firearms on three dates in August – a Ruger .40-caliber pistol, an HS 9mm pistol, a Chinese SKS 7.62-caliber rifle, a Firearms International .22-caliber pistol and a Bersa .45-caliber pistol, according to the indictment.
United States v. Jesse Pawlak: Pawlak, 32, of Parma, has prior convictions for drug trafficking and burglary, but in July possessed an AK-47 7.62-caliber rifle, a Sar Arms 9mm pistol and a Bersa .380-caliber pistol, and in August possessed a Professional Ordnance 5.56-caliber rifle, according to the indictment.
United States v. Moises Perez: Perez, 45, of Cleveland, had a Ruger 9 mm pistol and H&R .22-caliber revolver and assorted ammunition in August, despite prior felony convictions for burglary, attempted felonious assault, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor, attempted felonious assault with a firearm, attempted intimidation, drug trafficking, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Perez was indicted as an armed career criminal, which would carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted, according to the indictment.
United States v. James Smith et. al.: A seven-count indictment was filed charging James Smith, 25, of Cleveland, Brandon Talley, 32, of Garfield Heights, and Lorenzo White, 22, of Cleveland, with multiple offenses. Talley possessed a 12-gauge shotgun in August, despite a previous conviction for rape and aggravated robbery with firearms specifications. Talley, Smith and White aided and abetted each other in the possession of unlicensed shotguns which had been modified (sawed-off), according to the indictment.
United States v. Gilberto Torres, et. al: A six-count indictment was filed charging Gilberto Torres, 33, Juan Hernandez, 23, both of Cleveland, and Antonio Turner, 33, of Shaker Heights, with firearms offenses. All three men at various times sold firearms without a license. Torres and Turner did so despite felony convictions – aggravated assault for Torres and attempted felonious assault, burglary, abduction and robbery with a firearm for Turner. Hernandez also sold a HiPoint .40-caliber pistol with an obliterated serial number, according to the indictment.
State of Ohio v. Michael Lukach: Lukach, 24, of Cleveland, was charged in state court with two counts of carrying a concealed weapon, fourth-degree felonies; two counts of improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle, also fourth-degree felonies; and unlawful possession of dangerous ordnance, a fifth-degree felony. These charges stem from undercover investigations in which Lukach, also known as "Russian Mike," sold eight firearms to an agent – six semiautomatic pistols and two shotguns, according to the indictment.