Gun Violence Task Force Charges 23 More People For Gun Crimes

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Philadelphia, July 16, 2010:  District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Attorney General Tom Corbett and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey today announced that the Gun Violence Task Force has arrested 23 more individuals charging them with gun trafficking and related offenses.  Since it began in December 2006, the Task Force has opened 1445 investigations involving the illegal transfer of firearms, made 472 arrests, and seized 847 firearms.  In addition, the Task Force has assisted Philadelphia Police in solving numerous shootings, burglaries, robberies, and homicides.  To date, the Task Force has convicted 239 individuals of straw purchasing and other gun trafficking offenses. 

 “Every straw purchaser and gun trafficker that the Gun Violence Task Force apprehends and prosecutes is one less weapon, or more than one in many cases, that can be used to harm an innocent citizen of Philadelphia.” said District Attorney Seth Williams.

 In December 2006, with funding from the State Legislature, the Gun Violence Task Force was launched to attack the proliferation of illegal guns on city streets.  Composed of veteran investigators and seasoned prosecutors, and working in close coordination with the Philadelphia Police Department, the Task Force began operations in Southwest Philadelphia and has since expanded into all six of the city’s police Divisions.

 Under Pennsylvania law, a convicted felon is prohibited from purchasing a firearm.  Licensed gun dealers require proof of identity and perform a record check prior to making a sale.  Unable to legally purchase firearms from a licensed dealer, felons use false identification or hire “Straws”, citizens with no criminal record, to purchase guns for them.  The “Straw”, after buying the gun and delivering it to the felon, frequently reports the gun as stolen in an attempt to avoid criminal responsibility when the gun is later used in a crime.  Felons also illegally purchase weapons “on the street” – most often guns stolen in burglaries. 

 It was announced today that the following have been arrested by the Task Force:

 Darryl Byrd, 28, of the 2900 block of Morris Street.  Byrd is charged with the straw purchase of seven handguns – three .40 caliber, two 9mm, one .45 caliber, and one .357, for a convicted felon.  The .357 handgun was recovered by Philadelphia in connection with an arrest for aggravated assault.  Byrd is facing the following charges: Conspiracy, a felony of the 1st degree; Persons Not to Possess Firearms, a misdemeanor of the first degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree;  and Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

 Harry Berko, 26, of the 3000 block of Tulip Street.  It is alleged that Berko stole ten handguns, two rifles, and a shotgun from a residence and sold them illegally on the street.  None of the firearms have yet been recovered.  Berko is charged with Burglary, a felony of the 1st degree; Theft, a felony of the 2nd degree; Receiving Stolen Property, a felony of the 2nd degree; Firearms not to be Carried without a License, a felony of the 3rd degree; Carrying a Firearm on a Public Street, a misdemeanor of the 1st degree; Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 2nd degree.  

 Akiem Smith, 19, of the 1300 block of South 4th Street.  Smith, who was too young to legally purchase a firearm, is charged with attempting to use a straw purchaser to buy a handgun for him.  When that purchase attempt failed, Smith reportedly had his mother straw purchase a .45 caliber handgun for him.  Task Force Agents recovered the handgun which had had its serial number obliterated.  Smith is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Persons Not to Possess Firearms, a misdemeanor of the first degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; Altering or Obliterating Marks of Identification, a felony of the 2nd degree; Firearms not to be Carried without a License, a felony of the 3rd degree; Carrying a Firearm on a Public Street, a misdemeanor of the 1st degree; Conspiracy, a felony of the 2nd degree.  

 Brian Harmon aka Jason Wygrade, 33, of the 6700 block of Musgrave Street.  It is alleged that Harmon, prohibited from purchasing a firearm, falsified purchase forms in an attempt to buy a .45 caliber handgun at a Philadelphia gun shop.  Harmon is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.  

 Robert Dempsey, 49, of the 3600 block of Miller Street.  Dempsey, a convicted felon, is accused of falsifying purchase forms in an attempt to buy a .32 caliber handgun at a Philadelphia Gun Shop.  Dempsey is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; and Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

 Allen Gutzwiller, 61, of the 800 block of Densmore Street.  It is alleged that Gutzwiller illegally transferred two handguns, a .22 caliber and a .25 caliber.  Both handguns, as well as a .40 caliber, were recovered by Philadelphia police serving a search warrant for narcotics at the residence of the transferee.  Gutzwiller is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 3rd degree.  

  Mila Garcia-Lee, 45, of the 600 block of East Indiana Street.  Garcia-Lee is accused of straw purchasing a .40 caliber handgun for her husband, a convicted felon.  The handgun has not yet been recovered.  Garcia-Lee is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; Conspiracy, a felony of the 3rd degree.

 William Perdue, 27, of the 200 block of North Avondale Street.  It is alleged that Perdue falsified application forms in an attempt to obtain a license to carry a firearm.  Perdue is charged with the misdemeanor crime of Persons Not to Possess Firearms; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

 Cheryl Curry, 30, of the 2700 block of Lardner Street.  Curry, who was prohibited from purchasing a firearm, is charged with falsifying purchase forms in an attempt to buy a shotgun from a Philadelphia gun store. Curry is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

 Rasheen Young, 28, of the 1100 block of West Nevada Street, and Brandi Evans, 27, of the 4200 block of Chester Avenue.  It is alleged that Evans straw purchased a 9mm handgun for Young, a convicted felon on probation.  The handgun was recovered by Task Force Special Agents who followed Evans from the store.  While serving a search warrant at the residence of Young, Agents also recovered marijuana, pills, blank prescription forms, an alligator, two rattlesnakes, and a viper.  Both Young and Evans are both charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; Persons Not to Possess Firearms, a felony of the 2nd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 2nd degree.  Young is also charged with possession of the drugs and the prescription forms as well as a violation of the animal licensing code.  

 Andre Sams, 23, of the 500 block of West Tabor Road.  It is alleged that Sams illegally transferred a 9mm handgun to his cousin.  The cousin was later arrested in possession of the loaded handgun by Philadelphia police during a car stop.  Sams is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Loaning of Firearms Prohibited, a misdemeanor of the 1st degree; Firearms not to be Carried without a License, a felony of the 3rd degree; Carrying a Firearm on a Public Street, a misdemeanor of the 1st degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 3rd degree.  

 Ryan McLaughlin, 27, of the 1300 block of Prospect Avenue, Croydon, PA.  McLaughlin is charged with the straw purchase a .38 caliber handgun at a Philadelphia gun show for an acquaintance who was prohibited from purchasing firearms.  The handgun has not been recovered.  McLaughlin is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 3rd degree. 

Margaret Rodriguez, 52, of the 3700 block of North 10th Street.  It is alleged that

Rodriguez illegally purchased on the street a .45 caliber handgun that had been stolen in a burglary.  The handgun was subsequently recovered by Philadelphia police narcotics officers while executing a search and seizure warrant.  Rodriguez is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Receiving Stolen Property, a felony of the 2nd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 3rd degree.

 Stanley Coward, 23, of the 700 block of West Venango Street.  Coward is accused of illegally transferred a .40 caliber handgun to his sister and his sister’s boyfriend, a convicted felon.  The handgun and two loaded magazines were subsequently recovered by Philadelphia police after the boyfriend threatened Coward’s sister with the weapon.  Coward is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Persons Not to Possess Firearms, a felony of the 2nd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony of the 2nd degree.

 Shacoy McNish, 28, of the 400 block of Millbank Street, Upper Darby; and Alisha Vann, 29, of the 2200 block of Greenwich Street.  It is alleged that McNish, a convicted felon, and Vann, using stolen ID, attempted to purchase a 9mm handgun at a Philadelphia Gun Store.  Both are charged with Persons Not to Possess Firearms, a felony of the 2nd degree; Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; Identity Theft, a felony of the 3rd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony.  An arrest warrant is outstanding for Vann.

 Tyreeke Burnett, 20, of the 2000 block of North 57th Street.  It is alleged that Task Force Agents, serving an arrest warrant at Burnett’s apartment, recovered a 9mm handgun which Burnett had illegally purchased on the street as well as approximately 60 grams of marijuana.  Burnett is charged with violating Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Possession of an Instrument of Crime, a misdemeanor of the 1st degree; and narcotics offenses.

 Monique Benitez, 25, of the 900 block of South 8th Street, Camden, New Jersey.  Benitez is accused of straw purchasing two 9mm handguns at a Philadelphia gun store for a male friend.  One of the 9mm’s along with drugs was recovered by Philadelphia police during a vehicle stop.  Benitez is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony.  

 Paul Murphy, aka John Moyer, 51, of the 3500 block of Fitler Street.  It is alleged that Murphy, a convicted felon, falsified state and federal purchase forms in an attempt to buy a handgun at a Philadelphia gun store.  Murphy is charged with Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; and Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

 Rodney Wheeler, 32, of the 400 block of Hellerman Street.  It is alleged that Wheeler stole a 9mm handgun from a relative and sold it illegally on the street.  The handgun was subsequently recovered by Philadelphia Police making an arrest after responding to a “report of gunshots” call in the 5500 block of Large Street.  Wheeler is charged with Theft, a felony of the 2nd degree; Receiving Stolen Property, a felony of the 2nd degree; Illegal Transfer of Firearms, a felony of the 3rd degree; and Conspiracy, a felony. 

 Alexander Apsit, 29, of the 2300 block of Benson Street.  It is alleged that Apsit, a fugitive from New York City, falsified application forms in an attempt to obtain a license to carry a firearm in Philadelphia.  Apsit is charged with Tampering with Public Records or Information, a felony of the 3rd degree; Unsworn Falsification, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree; and Persons Not to Possess Firearms, a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree.

 Jovan Edwards, 24, of the 1200 block of Flora Street.  Edwards is charged with illegally carrying a loaded .380 caliber handgun in a friend’s vehicle.  The handgun was recovered by Philadelphia Police along with another loaded handgun from the vehicle.  Edwards is charged with Firearms not to be Carried without a License, a felony of the 3rd degree; Carrying a Firearm on a Public Street, a misdemeanor of the 1st degree; and Conspiracy, a felony. 

 Felonies of the 2nd degree are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.  Felonies of the 3rd degree are punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine. Misdemeanors of the 1st degree are punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.  A second or subsequent conviction of 18 PA.C.S.A 6111 is a felony of the 2nd degree and carries a mandatory sentence of five to 10 years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine.

It was also announced that the following defendants prosecuted by the Task Force have been sentenced:

 Ira Clark was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in state prison by the Honorable Gwendolyn Bright after he pled guilty to stealing a handgun from a residence and selling it illegally on the street.

 Earl Zardele was sentenced to 2 ½ to 8 years in state prison by the Honorable Glenn Bronson after he pled guilty to stealing 18 handguns from a residence and selling them illegally on the street.

 Rahmel Smalls-Sills was sentenced to 1 to 2 years in state prison by the Honorable Joan A. Brown after he pled guilty to stealing a handgun from a friend’s residence.

 Rasheen Anwar White was sentenced to 4 1/2 to 10 years in state prison by the Honorable Paula A. Patrick after he pled guilty to possessing 3 handguns and a shotgun which he had illegally purchased on the street.

Jermaine Rainford was sentenced to 1 to 2 years in state prison by the Honorable William J.Mazzola after he pled guilty to using a straw purchaser to buy two handguns.

 James Natal was sentenced to 18 to 36 years in state prison by the Honorable Susan Schulman after being found guilty by a jury of stealing a handgun and committing 2 gunpoint robberies and related crimes.  

 Michael Holtzman was sentenced to 7 to 14 years in state prison by the Honorable Lisa Rau after pleading guilty to burglarizing a home and stealing 13 firearms which he tried to sell illegally on the street.

 Otis Roberts was sentenced to 3 to 6 years in state prison by the Honorable Willis Berry Jr. after pleading guilty to using a straw purchaser to buy a handgun as well as buying two other handguns illegally on the street.


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