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Thursday - December 11, 2003


Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. Attorney Frank D. Whitney of the Eastern District of North Carolina Announce Record Increase in Federal Firearms Prosecutions

RALEIGH - United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney today joined Attorney General John Ashcroft in applauding the record of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors who are working together through Project Safe Neighborhoods to prevent and prosecute gun crime.

"Newly released data shows record-levels of federal prosecutions of gun crime," said Attorney General Ashcroft. "Gun criminals are paying unprecedented penalties, and law-abiding Americans are enjoying unprecedented safety. Under President Bush's leadership, Project Safe Neighborhoods is making a tremendous difference in ensuring that gun crime equals hard time."

A Record of Increased Prosecutions. In the past three years, federal gun crime prosecutions have increased by 68 percent. Between FY 2002 and FY 2003, federal firearms prosecutions increased nearly 24 percent, and since FY 2000, there has been a 62 percent increase in defendants charged with firearm-related crimes. Project Safe Neighborhoods first set a record in FY 2002 for increasing the number of defendants charged with gun-related crimes by 20 percent. During this year, Project Safe Neighborhoods set a new Justice Department record with nearly 23 percent more defendants charged with gun crimes.

Federal offenders are being sentenced to significant jail time. In FY 2003, 93 percent of defendants were sentenced to some prison time, and about 72 percent of offenders were sentenced to prison terms greater than three years.

A Drop in Violent Crime Victimization. The increased emphasis on the prevention and prosecution of gun crimes makes our communities safer by ensuring that those who abuse firearms are not free to prey on our citizens. Between 1999-2000 and 2001-2002, the violent crime victimization rate plunged 21 percent. Approximately 130,000 fewer Americans were victims of gun crime in 2001-2002 than in 1999-2000.

National Scope, Local Impact. Project Safe Neighborhoods is an unprecedented partnership between all levels of government to implement a national strategy to attack gun crime with focus and intensity. While national in scope, each community's PSN task force is working to design and implement a local approach to combat the unique criminal circumstances that the area faces. Project Safe Neighborhoods relies on a seamless network of law enforcement professionals who utilize a strategy of cooperation and coordination to prevent illegal gun use, as well as punishing violators and putting criminals who use guns behind bars. Prosecutors pursue the strongest possible punishment for those who violate firearms statutes. Community partners aggressively educate their constituents, such as youths in at-risk areas, about the consequence of illegal gun violence through services and resources provided by PSN.

LOCAL PERSPECTIVE: The United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, working in conjunction with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and other state and federal agencies, has committed itself to aggressively pursuing the goals of Project Safe Neighborhoods. Over the past two years over 500 individuals have been prosecuted under the Project Safe Neighborhoods program. Many of those individuals have received lengthy prison sentences. In today's press conference, Attorney General Ashcroft highlighted several cases across the nation that exemplified the Project Safe Neighborhoods efforts and results. Two cases from the Eastern District of North Carolina were specifically mentioned in the Attorney General's remarks: United States v. Donald Hairston andUnited States v. Al James Smith.

DONALD HAIRSTON, 36, of 706 Chestnut Street, Kinston, N. C., pled guilty on Monday, December 8, 2003, in Greenville, N. C., before U. S. District Judge Malcolm J. Howard, to one count of felon in possession of a firearm and another count that charged him with dealing in firearms without a license. HAIRSTON, a convicted felon, knew that he was unable to purchase firearms, so he recruited several individuals to purchase firearms for him in and around the Kinston and Goldsboro, N. C. areas. HAIRSTON in turn transported those firearms to Washington, D. C. for sale. Some of the firearms HAIRSTON transported to Washington have been recovered at crime scenes. During the course of the conspiracy, at least 69 firearms were purchased and transported to Washington, D. C.

The second case highlighted in Attorney General Ashcroft's remarks today was the announcement of a guilty verdict in a trial conducted before U. S. District Judge Louise Flanagan in New Bern, N. C., which concluded on December 10, 2003. AL JAMES SMITH, 44, of 1927 Plymouth Street, Fayetteville, N. C., was convicted on all counts as charged. On October 22, 2003, Smith was charged in an eight-count superseding indictment as follows: four counts of felon in possession of a firearm; three counts of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm; and one count of conspiracy. This case is part of a larger firearms trafficking case out of Cumberland County. SMITHand several other individuals bought at least 30 documented firearms in Cumberland County and then traveled to New York to sell the guns to identified drug dealers in that city. It is important to note that the SMITH case is also part of the national firearms trafficking initiative called "Operation Pipeline," which involves the investigation and prosecution of firearms trafficking cases up and down the eastern seacoast from Florida to New York.

According to U. S. Attorney Whitney, "Our goal in the Eastern District of North Carolina is to stop gun crimes, swiftly and effectively, through the team efforts of each PSN site." Project Safe Neighborhoods and the six task forces working in Raleigh, Fayetteville, Greenville, Wilmington, Lumberton, and Johnston County, as well as other rural areas in the district, are diligently working together to reduce gun crime. Any questions regarding the campaign and Project Safe Neighborhoods may be directed to Assistant U. S. Attorney Jane J. Jackson, PSN Coordinator, U. S. Attorney's Office.


News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney's web page at within 48 hours of release.

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