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Press Release

Convicted Felon Pleads Guilty to Possessing Firearms During Civil Unrest

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. – A previously convicted felon pleaded guilty today to a charge related to his possession of an assault rifle, handgun, ballistic vest, and eight magazines of ammunition after leaving the Robert E. Lee Monument during civil unrest on June 12 in Richmond.

“Project Guardian is the Department’s signature anti-gun violence program,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “One of the key cornerstones of Guardian is holding those accountable who have forfeited their Second Amendment rights due to their status as a felon, drug user, or domestic abuser—amongst other prohibitors. This defendant, due to his own previous felonious conduct and conviction, was prohibited from possessing a firearm and ammunition, and chose to openly flout state and federal law by unlawfully possessing multiple firearms and eight magazines of ammunition.”

According to court documents, on June 12, Matthew Lee Frezza, 37, of Chesterfield, possessed an assault rifle and handgun during the course of a traffic stop during civil unrest. The incident started when Richmond Police Department (RPD) officers observed a caravan of three trucks driving recklessly in the vicinity of the Robert E. Lee Monument. Based on this reckless driving, RPD officers executed a traffic stop on one of the pickup trucks at the intersection of Old Mill Road and Boatwright Road in the city of Richmond. Upon approaching the truck, RPD officers observed three occupants inside, with an individual later identified as Frezza in the front passenger seat of the truck.  RPD officers further observed all three occupants of the truck armed with firearms, including assault rifles.

“Firearms in the possession of a convicted felon are always a public safety concern, but especially so when multiple weapons are recovered during a potentially volatile situation, such as civil unrest,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “This defendant’s guilty plea confirms that the unlawful possession of a firearm is a serious offense and we are grateful to U.S. Attorney Terwilliger and our law enforcement partners in Richmond for this successful outcome.”

Based on the firearms and the vehicles prior presence at the Robert E. Lee Monument, RPD Officers requested the three occupants step out of the truck. As Frezza exited the truck, RPD officers took an assault rifle from his possession, removed a handgun and two clips from a holster on his thigh, and removed a ballistic vest from his body that contained six rifle magazines with ammunition. On the scene, RPD Officers determined that Frezza was a convicted felon and placed him under arrest. The firearm possessed by Frezza was a Taurus, Model G3, 9mm caliber, semi-automatic pistol. The assault rifle possessed by Frezza was later determined to be a homemade rifle without a serial number, which contained a loaded, high-capacity magazine.

Frezza pleaded guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison when sentenced on December 10. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. Click here for more information about Project Guardian.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Washington Field Division, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik S. Siebert is prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:20-cr-78.


Joshua Stueve
Director of Public Affairs

Updated August 25, 2020

Project Guardian
Firearms Offenses