(Before It's News)
LOS ANGELES – In three trials last week, federal juries convicted four Southern California men on charges of illegal weapons possession and gun trafficking.
After deliberating for only an hour on Friday, a jury in Los Angeles found two men guilty of illegally selling firearms. Francisco Juantonio Hilt, 39, of Compton, and Sean Ronaldo Alexander, 37, of South Los Angeles, each were convicted of multiple counts of gun trafficking.
Hilt and Alexander were found guilty in relation to seven illegal gun transactions involving a total of 30 guns, including military-style weapons and stolen firearms. The evidence at trial showed that the men believed they were supplying guns to the Armenian Mafia and the “Mexican Cartel,” and the firearms were sold to an individual that Hilt believed was a convicted felon. Both defendants were found guilty of conspiracy and engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license. Hilt was also convicted of several counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and sale of a firearm to a prohibited person.
Hilt and Alexander were charged as the result of an operation last year by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that targeted the sale of guns in and around Compton and Mona Park in Willowbrook. During the course of the year-long investigation, authorities took more than 100 illegally trafficked firearms off the streets, and 14 defendants were charged in federal and state court.
As a result of Friday’s guilty verdicts, Hilt, who has a previous drug conviction, faces a statutory maximum sentence of 90 years in federal prison, and Alexander faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, when they are sentenced on June 5 by United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner.
A third defendant charged in this case – Jamie Maurice Thomas, 38, of South Los Angeles – pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy and selling a firearm to a prohibited person. Thomas faces up to 15 years in federal prison when he is sentenced by Judge Klausner on March 27.
“The availability of illegal firearms dramatically increases the incidence of violent crime,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “In each of the cases announced today, convicted felons possessed firearms, and, in two of the cases, the defendants either sold or claimed to want to sell guns. My office is focused on removing felons who would sell or possess firearms from our streets, and our community is safer today with these four defendants facing significant prison time.”
Eric Harden, the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division, stated: “ATF reduces violent crime by partnering with the local law enforcement to identify, investigate, and arrest those who illegally supply firearms to prohibited individuals, and by targeting previously convicted felons who possess firearms. The dedicated personnel of ATF work tirelessly to rid our communities of criminals who have multiple violent convictions and upon release go right back to the streets to commit firearms violence. These solid investigations will result in significant prison time for these individuals, making for safer neighborhoods.”
In a second weapons case that went to trial last week in Los Angeles, a federal jury on Thursday convicted Samir Fouad Benamor, 48, of Torrance, of being a convicted felon who unlawfully possessed a shotgun in violation of federal law. He was convicted after a three-day trial and will be sentenced on June 5 by United States District Judge S. James Otero. At sentencing, Benamor – who has been previously convicted of six different felonies, including domestic violence, drug trafficking and illegal firearms possessiom – will face a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
The evidence at Benamor’s trial showed that on June 2, 2016, law enforcement officers with the Torrance Police Department conducted a post-release community supervision search of Benamor’s residence and vehicle in Torrance. During the search of Benamor’s vehicle, a Torrance Police Department Detective located a shotgun under the seat of the vehicle. As Benamor had previously sustained a felony conviction, he was prohibited under federal law from possessing the shotgun in his vehicle. Benamor admitted to another Detective that he unlawfully possessed the shotgun, but claimed that he intended to sell it.
“On behalf of the Torrance Police Department, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, as well as the United States Attorney’s Office, for their professionalism and dedication in this matter,” said Torrance Chief of Police Mark Matsuda. “Their partnership with us in this case contributed towards our goal of providing a safe and secure community for our residents.”
In the third firearms-related trial last week, a federal jury in Santa Ana on Thursday convicted Tony Eugene Craig, 45, of North Hollywood, of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
On January 8, 2016, members of the United States Marshals Service’s Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force located Craig in North Hollywood. Craig. who had absconded from his federal supervised release, was found hiding in a back bedroom after his girlfriend told Task Force members that he was not home. During a protective sweep of the room where Craig was located, law enforcement agents found a loaded .357 Magnum revolver on the floor next to the bed.
Craig had been previously convicted of six different felonies, including domestic violence, drug trafficking and illegal firearms possession. Craig was on supervised release after serving a prison term in relation to a 2003 conviction for conspiracy to distribute cocaine when he was found in possession of the firearm and ammunition.
Craig faces a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on June 12 by United States District Andrew J. Guilford.
These three cases are representative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s focus on working with both federal and local law enforcement partners to address violent crime and to remove criminals possessing illegal firearms from the street. That focus resulted in a more than three-fold increase in prosecutions of those who illegally possessed weapons between 2014 and 2016, and prosecutors expect the number of those cases to continue to rise.
The case against Hilt and Alexander was investigated by ATF and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Veronica Dragalin and Bryant Yang of the General Crimes Section.
The case against Benamor was investigated by ATF and the Torrance Police Department and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew W. O’Brien of the General Crimes Section.
The case against Craig was investigated by ATF and the USMS Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Khaldoun Shobaki of the General Crimes Section.