24 Defendants Charged With Gun Offenses After Undercover Investigation
Undercover RCSO officer purchased and seized over 64 firearms during
“Operation Smoke Screen”
AUGUSTA, GA – 15 federal indictments, unsealed today in federal court, have charged 24 defendants with federal firearms offenses. An additional 85 defendants were charged by the Augusta Division’s District Attorney’s Office on state burglary, theft, firearm and drug charges. The federal and state indictments follow a 7-month undercover investigation in the Augusta area dubbed “Operation Smoke Screen.”
The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) initiated Operation Smoke Screen in August of 2011. As a result of this undercover operation, RCSO seized an estimated $500,000 in property and identified suspects in 104 burglaries, 12 car break-ins and 16 thefts. While guns were not the focus of the investigation, 64 firearms were recovered; many from convicted felons or individuals dealing in firearms without a license. A number of the guns seized during the undercover operation were reported stolen.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “Operation Smoke Screen is a great example of the successes that can be accomplished through the collaborative efforts of federal and local law enforcement agencies working together to protect the public. This operation serves as notice to the criminal element that if you traffic in stolen guns and other stolen items, law enforcement is watching and you will be prosecuted.”
“The right of citizens to feel safe in their homes is a basic freedom that we feel is worth protecting. The suspects that were targeted during this investigation were alleged to be involved in victimizing citizens of this community and putting guns into the hands of the criminal element,” said Special Agent in Charge Scott Sweetow, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Atlanta Field Division. “ATF actively partners with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to stem firearms-related violent crime. We applaud the Richmond County Sheriff's Office for initiating this multi-faceted investigation aimed at seizing stolen property to include dozens of stolen firearms.”
Following numerous arrests today, initial appearances for several of the federally indicted defendants were held in United States District Court, Augusta, Georgia. The arrests today were undertaken by the RCSO, the United States Marshals Service, the Georgia State Patrol Aviation Division and the ATF RAGE Unit, which consists of members from the ATF, the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office and the Aiken Department of Public Safety. A listing of the 24 defendants recently indicted on federal charges is attached.
Mr. Tarver stressed that an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the Government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant United States Attorneys Lamont A. Belk and Nancy C. Greenwood are prosecuting the federal cases for the United States. For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.