Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Project Safe Neighborhoods Press Conference
Thursday, December 11, 2003

(Please Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

Good afternoon.

Today, a federal grand jury indictment was unsealed in New Jersey and a series of charges were brought in the Southern District of Ohio alleging the illegal transfer of firearms from Ohio to street gang members in East Orange, New Jersey.

These firearms were purchased using "straw buyers," persons not prohibited from buying guns, who are willing to buy guns for others and lie on the required background check form.

Over the past two months, a series of investigations and court cases similar to the New Jersey and Ohio case are highlighting the successes the Department of Justice is having in combating the threat of gun crime in the United States.

More than two years ago, President Bush made a commitment to the safety of citizens and to the rule of law with the creation of Project Safe Neighborhoods. He stated clearly and unequivocally, quote, "If you use a gun illegally, you will do hard time."

Federal, state and local crime-fighters are delivering on this commitment, in a revolutionary campaign against violent gun crime in America. A record-setting level of federal gun crime prosecutions … up 68 percent in the past three years … along with effective prevention and deterrence efforts, have helped fuel the lowest rate of violent crime victimization since such records were kept.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the violent crime rate plunged 21 percent between 1999-2000 and 2001-2002. Behind this statistic are women, men and children who are safer in their homes and on the streets. Approximately 130,000 fewer Americans were victims of gun crime in 2001-2002 than in 1999-2000.

Critical to this success has been Project Safe Neighborhoods, a national commitment to reduce gun crime on the local level. Project Safe Neighborhoods links federal, state, and local law enforcement, prosecutors, and community leaders in a comprehensive strategy of deterrence, prevention and prosecution of gun crime.

Newly released data on Project Safe Neighborhoods shows record levels of federal prosecutions of gun crime … defendants charged with gun-related crimes. Gun criminals are paying unprecedented penalties … and law-abiding Americans are enjoying unprecedented safety.

Project Safe Neighborhoods allows federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to work together to pursue those individuals and groups who seek to procure, purchase and use firearms illegally. The indictments unsealed today in New Jersey and the charges brought in Ohio are an example of how Project Safe Neighborhoods works.

Defendants James Dillard, Quadree Smith, a/k/a "Trouble," Michael Harris, a/k/a "Fat Mike," and Daniel Alvarez are charged with conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license, and dealing in firearms without a license. Defendant Smith also faces a third count, of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Dillard is the owner of the Hole in the Wall Gun Shop in Xenia, Ohio. Smith is the alleged leader of the Double II Bloods in East Orange, New Jersey. Harris and Alvarez are alleged members of the Double II Bloods.

The indictment identifies by initials three unindicted co-conspirators, all Wilberforce University students.

Others charged in the conspiracy include former Wilberforce students-turned-gun traffickers, who allegedly brokered the deals with Dillard in Ohio and then transferred the guns to Smith and the other gang members in travels through Ohio, New Jersey and New York.

Dillard is also charged by criminal complaint in the Southern District of Ohio with three counts of being an Ohio federal firearms licensee and selling firearms knowingly to a resident of another state.

In addition, criminal complaints out of the Southern District of Ohio charge eight straw buyers, including the three cited in the New Jersey indictment, with knowingly making false statements to a federal firearms licensee.

While Dillard is not alleged to have known specifically who the ultimate owners of the guns would be, he knew that the "straw buyers", the Wilberforce students, were merely paperwork intermediaries recruited by co-conspirators to legitimize the sales in Ohio. Dillard is accused of aiding and abetting others in the conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.

Among the crimes charged in the New Jersey indictment, Dillard made two sales … one for 16 firearms, another for 15 … to two different straw buyers on April 22, 2002. Five days earlier, Dillard allegedly sold 25 firearms to one of the same straw buyers. In all, the charges in Ohio allege that approximately 200 firearms, most of them semi-automatic hand guns, were purchased illegally in Ohio. Most, if not all, were shipped out of the state illegally.

Recently, a number of straw buyer and interstate firearms trafficking investigations and prosecutions have highlighted the successful, cooperative efforts to stem gun crime:

Under Project Safe Neighborhoods, U.S. Attorneys in each of the 94 districts work with local law enforcement and other officials to identify the most serious local gun crime problems and develop strategic plans to address the problems.

Criminals who use guns are prosecuted under federal, state or local laws, depending on which jurisdiction can provide the strongest and most appropriate punishment. Each district also implements deterrence and prevention strategies.

The Bush Administration has dedicated over $820 million to Project Safe Neighborhoods. More than 700 new federal, state, and local prosecutors, almost 400 new support investigators, and research and community outreach support for each U.S. Attorney district. More than 11,000 local law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and other Project Safe Neighborhoods task force members have received training in preventing and combating gun violence.

I thank Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray and the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorneys Christopher Christie, Greg Lockhart and their offices for their efforts in this case. I also thank Acting ATF Director Buckles, and the ATF offices in Ohio and New Jersey, as well as elsewhere, for their work in enforcing the gun laws that are making America's street safer.

The Justice Department is committed to and focused on protecting the lives and liberties of the American public, whether from international terrorists or gun-toting thugs on our streets.

In the past 28 months, there has been no major terrorist attack on our shores, and we have driven down the violent crime rate to historic lows. These results are due to the coordinated hard work of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and communities, and the tough investigative, prosecutorial, and prevention tools they have at their disposal.