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Thursday - January 22, 2004

259 Percent Increase in Federal Firearms Prosecutions
Over Last Two Years

RALEIGH - United States Attorney Frank D. Whitney announced that in the Eastern District of North Carolina from FY 2001 to FY 2003, since the implementation of "Project Safe Neighborhoods" (PSN), prosecutions for federal gun and violent crimes increased by 259 percent, and convictions for those offenses increased by 236 percent. During FY 2003, the District had a 99.6 percent conviction rate for gun and violent crimes with an average prison sentence of 98 months (just over eight years).

U. S. Attorney Whitney said, "Throughout the nation and throughout eastern North Carolina, violent crime and murder rates are down. Through a cohesive teaming of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies under the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, we are targeting repeat offenders who have chosen to live a life of crime. It is not a coincidence that, as we lock up multiple-felon repeat offenders, violent crime is dropping."

A RECORD NUMBER OF INCREASED PROSECUTIONS LOCALLY. In the Eastern District of North Carolina, prosecutions of repeat offenders and violent criminals have substantially increased since the 1990s.

Fiscal Year (1) Defendants
Defendants Convicted (2)
1992 86 68
1993 113 93
1994 88 80
1995 92 93
1996 64 77
1997 40 29
1998 108 56
1999 86 83
2000 141 66
2001 129 95
2002 191 135
2003 334 224

Through violent crime task forces operating in the late 1990s and President Bush's PSN initiative which began in March 2001 (January 2002 in the Eastern District), there has been a dramatic increase in federal prosecutions of gun criminals. Nationwide from FY 2000 through FY 2003, federal firearms prosecutions increased 68 percent.

In the Eastern District, the increase is even more dramatic. From FY 1992 to FY 1997, the District averaged 81 prosecutions of gun criminals per year. From FY 1998 to FY 2000, after the creation of violent crime task forces in the District, the District averaged 121 prosecutions of gun criminals per year. With the implementation of the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, from FY 2001 to FY 2003, the District has averaged 218 prosecutions of gun criminals per year, culminating in the record number of 334 prosecutions in FY 2003.

Over the last fiscal year, between FY 2002 and FY 2003, the Eastern District saw substantial increases in five categories of federal firearms prosecutions: number of firearms cases filed --282, an 81.9 percent increase over 2002 filings; number of defendants charged -- 334, a 74.9 percent increase; total number of defendants found guilty of firearms charges - 224, a 65.9 percent increase; and total number of defendants who were sentenced to 61 months or more imprisonment for firearms violations - 137, a 65.2 percent increase (Note: 13.8 percent of defendants received sentences of three to five years, and 21.0 percent of defendants received sentences of less than three years).

TASK FORCE APPROACH - "A TEAM EFFORT." Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) encourages federal, state, and local agencies to cooperate in a unified "team effort" against gun crime, targeting repeat offenders who continually plague their communities. Each PSN task force designs and implements a local approach to combat the specific gun crime problems of that community. Project Safe Neighborhoods, recognized as a comprehensive gun crime reduction strategy, combines vigorous enforcement of federal and state firearms laws with cooperative prevention and intervention initiatives. The PSN strategy gives identified offenders a second chance to turn their lives around and become productive citizens.

"If those offenders choose to continue their life of crime, they will be federally prosecuted and will face lengthy sentences with no chance of parole. Repeat offenders have a choice: go straight or go straight to federal prison," said U. S. Attorney Whitney.

LOCAL PERSPECTIVE. The United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the United States Marshals Service, and other federal and state agencies has committed itself to aggressively pursuing the goals of Project Safe Neighborhoods.

In the Eastern District in the last two years, 525 defendants have been or currently are being prosecuted under the PSN initiative. "For each repeat offender prosecuted and removed from the street, that is a violent crime or murder prevented. There are people alive today who would have been victims of murder if these gun offenders had been allowed to stay on the street," said U. S. Attorney Whitney.

PSN prosecutions originate from all 44 counties in the Eastern District of North Carolina. However, the effort is focused in six task forces located in RALEIGH, FAYETTEVILLE, GREENVILLE, WILMINGTON, JOHNSTON COUNTY, and LUMBERTON.

The task force in RALEIGH is known as "Project T.R.A.C. -Targeting Raleigh's Armed Criminals" and includes the U. S. Attorney's Office, Wake County District Attorney's Office, ATF, Raleigh Police Department, Wake County Sheriff's Office, U. S. Probation Office, North Carolina Department of Correction Probation Office, Wake County Health and Human Services, and the local Weed and Seed community.

In FAYETTEVILLE, the "Operation Ceasefire" task force is comprised of the U. S. Attorney's Office, Cumberland County District Attorney's Office, ATF, Fayetteville Police Department, Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, North Carolina Department of Correction Probation Office, City of Fayetteville, Annaho and Hurst Supply Co., and Heal the Land ministries.

GREENVILLE's task force, named "Project J.A.C. - Jailing Armed Criminals," includes the U. S. Attorney's Office, Pitt County District Attorney's Office, ATF, Greenville Police Department, Pitt County Sheriff's Office, City of Greenville, Project Coming Home, and the former Weed and Seed community.

In WILMINGTON, the task force, named "Operation CeaseFire," includes the U. S. Attorney's Office, New Hanover County District Attorney's Office, ATF, Wilmington Police Department, New Hanover County Sheriff's Office, and U. S. Probation Office.

Encouraged by successes at other sites, JOHNSTON COUNTY and LUMBERTON recently formed task forces. The JOHNSTON COUNTY task force includes the U. S. Attorney's Office, ATF, and Johnston County Sheriff's Office. The LUMBERTON, task force includes the U. S. Attorney's Office, ATF, Robeson County District Attorney's Office, and Lumberton Police Department.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT HIGHLIGHTS EDNC PROSECUTIONS. In December 2003, at a national press conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft outlined several cases from across the nation that exemplified the Project Safe Neighborhoods efforts and results. Two of those cases were from the Eastern District of North Carolina.

DONALD HAIRSTON pled guilty in Greenville, N. C., on December 8, 2003, to one count of felon in possession of a firearm and one count of dealing in firearms without a license. HAIRSTON, a convicted felon, knew that he was prohibited from purchasing firearms, so he recruited several individuals to purchase firearms for him (known as "straw purchasers") in and around the Kinston and Goldsboro areas. HAIRSTON, in turn, transported those firearms to Washington, D. C., for sale there. Some of the firearms HAIRSTON transported to Washington were recovered later at various crime scenes. During the course of the conspiracy, at least 69 firearms were purchased and transported to Washington.

The second case the Attorney General highlighted was UNITED STATES v. AL JAMES SMITH. On December 10, 2003, defendant SMITH was convicted at trial in federal court in New Bern, N. C., of 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. SMITH and several other individuals bought at least 30 firearms in Cumberland County and then traveled to New York to sell the guns to identified drug dealers in that city. This case is part of a larger PSN firearms trafficking investigation in Cumberland County. The SMITH prosecution is also part of a coordinated national firearms trafficking investigation known as Operation Iron Pipeline, involving the investigation and prosecution of firearms trafficking along the east coast from southeastern states to northeastern metropolitan areas.

LAUNCH OF SECOND NATIONAL PUBLIC SERVICE ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN. Next week, the National Ad Council will release new Public Service Announcements (PSAs) that focus on the impact of violence on family members, hoping to deter those who may commit violent acts from crossing the line. The ad campaign, entitled "Sentenced," looks at the effects of violence from the perspective of "Mothers," "Brothers," and "Sisters." The ads present vignettes of the consequences of gun crime in an effort to show how gun crime adversely affects not only the perpetrators and direct victims but also the families of those who choose to use a gun illegally. The first PSN PSA, which was released in September 2003 and entitled "Mothers," focuses on the pain a mother experiences when her child commits and is incarcerated for a gun crime. The second collection of PSAs to be released next week further illustrates that "Gun Crimes Hit Home" by emphasizing the effects of gun crime on the families of the perpetrator.

"The destruction wrought by gun crime devastates the very core of the American family," said U. S. Attorney Whitney.

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.

1. A federal fiscal year begins October 1 and ends September 30.

2. Convictions lag charges by approximately six months, accounting for the lesser number of convictions than charges in FY 2002 and FY 2003 when prosecutions dramatically increased. With a conviction rate of 99.6% in FY 2003, it is expected that convictions in FY 2004 will approximate charges in FY 2003, at or near 334 defendants.

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