Gun-toting thugs beware, U.S. Attorney warns

By Peter H. Milliken


Federal grand juries in northern Ohio issued 207 indictments charging people with firearms crimes last year — the third-highest number in the last 10 years — with 29 percent of 2013’s total originating in the Mahoning Valley, the U.S. attorney said.

The only years in the last decade that surpassed 2013 were 2005, with 220 such indictments, and 2011, with 218.

Of the 207 federal-firearms indictments last year, 103 originated from the U.S. Attorney’s Cleveland office, 60 from the Youngstown office, 23 from Akron and 21 from Toledo.

“It’s a reflection of the overall crime problem,” with Youngstown and Warren being high-crime areas, David M. Toepfer, the Youngstown-based assistant U.S. attorney, said of the high number of federal gun cases originating in the Mahoning Valley.

Toepfer, who personally prosecutes the vast majority of the Valley’s federal gun-crime cases, also said his office works closely with local law enforcement and prosecutors to target the worst offenders.

Toepfer said prosecuting gun-law violators is a high priority for his office because those offenders are “disproportionately a cause of violence within our community.” He said gun cases constitute at least one third of his case load.

In a major investigation in Warren, more than 150 firearms were seized; 55 people were charged in April 2013 with federal firearms and narcotics crimes; and 42 more people faced state charges.

One of those indicted federally was Lewis Powell of Warren, who was charged with illegally possessing 14 guns as well as body armor and weapons with obliterated serial numbers as part of a purported conspiracy that brought cocaine and heroin from Detroit to Warren.

Powell’s final pretrial hearing will take place at 11 a.m. next Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Donald C. Nugent in Cleveland.

Among 172 defendants sentenced federally in northern Ohio for firearms offenses last year, prison terms averaged 68.2 months (nearly six years), the U.S. attorney said.

Toepfer said he usually recommends prison time for people with prior felony records who are convicted of federal gun charges.

“By the time they get into the federal system, they typically have lengthy criminal records,” Toepfer explained. “Most of the offenders have a history of drugs and/or violence,” he added.

“We’re making it a priority to prosecute those offenders federally, which means they’ll serve longer prison sentences farther away from home” than they would if they faced state charges, Toepfer said.

“We will continue to go after the worst of the worst — those who tote firearms and ammunition, despite prior felony convictions, as well as unlicensed dealers, straw purchasers and others who break the law,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

“ATF agents are getting guns out of the hands of violent criminals in order to make our neighborhoods safer,” said Alden J. Fry, assistant special agent in charge of the Columbus Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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