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Press Release

Convicted Felon, Caught With a Gun in Athens, Pleads Guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia

ATHENS, Ga. – A convicted felon caught with a stolen gun after authorities were tipped off about him being armed and selling drugs in Athens has pleaded guilty for his crime, said Charlie Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.

John Willie Clarke, 34, of Athens, pleaded guilty to one count possession of a stolen firearm before U.S. District Judge C. Ashley Royal on Wednesday, July 8. Clarke faces a maximum sentence of ten years imprisonment, a maximum fine of $250,000 and three years supervised release. A sentencing date has not been scheduled. There is no parole in the federal system.

On December 3, 2019, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department received information that Clarke was located at the Bulldog Inn and was wanted on a probation warrant. The tipster stated that Clarke was armed with a large gun and sold narcotics, and also provided a description of the vehicle Clarke was traveling in as well as the tag information. Police learned that Clarke, who was a convicted felon, had left the Inn and was enroute to the Circle K convenience store on US Highway 29 North. There, police approached the described vehicle and observed Clarke in the front passenger seat with a gun magazine in his lap, loaded with 25 rounds of 9 mm ammunition. He was taken into custody on outstanding warrants. Inside the vehicle, police discovered a loaded 9 mm semi-automatic pistol and a stolen .380 semi-automatic pistol that Clarke admitted was purchased illegally. Plastic baggies and a methamphetamine pipe were also found inside the vehicle.

“We are working closely with our law enforcement partners across the Middle District of Georgia to identify and federally prosecute criminals caught with illegal firearms. Convicted felons with guns will be prosecuted, they will face prison time and there is no parole in the federal system,” said U.S. Attorney Charlie Peeler. “I want to thank the Athens-Clarke County Drug Task Force and the Athens-Clarke County Police Department for their work investigating this case, and their dedication to keeping citizens safe.”

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

The case is also 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. For more information about Project Guardian, please see

The case was investigated by the Athens-Clarke County Drug Task Force and Athens-Clarke County Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Easterling is prosecuting cases arising from this investigation for the Government. Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.

Updated July 13, 2020

Project Guardian
Project Safe Neighborhoods