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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Middle District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, September 8, 2021

U.S. Attorney’s Office Update On Ongoing Strategies To Combat Violent Crime

HARRISBURG – Protecting our communities from violent crime is a top priority for the Department of Justice.  In May 2021, the Justice Department launched a renewed comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy, which is built around four principles:

  • Build trust and earn legitimacy in our communities;
  • Invest in community-based prevention and intervention programs;
  • Target enforcement efforts and priorities by identifying, investigating, and prosecuting the most significant drivers of gun violence and other violent crime;
  • Measuring the results of these efforts through a decrease in violent crime – not merely by arrests and convictions.

The core of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts continues to be Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN).  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.

“Violent crime is a problem in the Middle District of Pennsylvania and throughout the nation,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Bruce D. Brandler.  “For many years our office has worked together with our law enforcement partners to reduce violent crime and we continuously update and revise our PSN strategy to improve our results.  I am pleased to update the public on our efforts and remain committed to making sure all citizens can live safely in our community.”

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has in place a multi-faceted program to reduce violent crime within the district.  Gun violence, driven mostly by drug trafficking or by neighborhood rivalries and gangs, is identified as the main problem in many of the larger more populated counties within the district. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office endeavors to disrupt violent crime by pursuing appropriate prison sentences and seeking forfeitures of crime-derived assets to deter dangerous individuals from continuing to disrupt our communities.  Through enforcement actions, prosecutions, and community partnerships, the U.S. Attorney’s Office works to lower violent crime and make neighborhoods safer.

Enforcement Strategy 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has long partnered with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to collaboratively address violent crime in the district. These efforts include regular meetings with these agencies to exchange information about areas of mutual concern, including deconflicting pending investigations, as well as identifying violent offenders, local crime trends, and notable criminal events.

Criminal Division supervisors regularly meet with with District Attorneys from Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania, state prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office, and supervisors from area Pennsylvania State Police barracks to strengthen ongoing partnerships to combat violent crime, including violence that is often associated with drug trafficking. The Criminal Division supervisors have also discussed with these state and local officials, strategies to combat violent crimes against children, including sex trafficking, child pornography offenses, and internet enticement crimes.

Violent crime and firearm investigations are supported by use of ATF’s National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN). NIBIN is a national network that allows for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms. This proven investigative and intelligence tool allows law enforcement to link firearms from multiple crime scenes and to quickly disrupt shooting cycles. Federal, state, and local law enforcement in the Middle District of Pennsylvania have used NIBIN to help solve violent crimes and prosecute gun offenders.

Prosecution Activity

The U.S. Attorney’s Office remains active in the fight against violent crime through various enforcement actions, prosecutions, and sentencings, as demonstrated by the recent examples below:

Firearms Prosecutions

  • On April 2, 2021, the United States Attorney’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the York County District Attorney’s Office, and the York City Police Department announced a joint initiative (Operation Scarecrow) that targets individuals who illegally purchase and possess firearms in York County.  Operation Scarecrow’s focus is on individuals who are prohibited from possessing firearms due to a prior felony conviction who use third parties (“straw parties”) to purchase firearms on their behalf. The Operation that began on January 20, 2021, has thus far resulted in 26 firearms being recovered in relation to straw purchasing violations. 

 

To date, seven individuals have been federally indicted with making false statements during the purchase of a firearm:

  • Donte Christian, of Baltimore, MD, indicted on February 3, 2021;
  • Jahzaire Jahzaire Gilliam, of York, indicted March 24, 2021;
  • Hannah Lapham, of York, indicted March 24, 2021;
  • Nijee Baskins, of York, indicted on March 31, 2021;
  • Olivia Marie Johnson, of York, indicted on July 28, 2021;
  • Alicia Lauren Butler-Sanchez, of Philadelphia, indicted on July 28, 2021;
  • Deontrae Marquis Jackson, of Philadelphia, indicted on July 28, 2021.
     
  • Bruce Redmond, of Dallas, was sentenced on September 1, 2021, to 46 months’ imprisonment for illegal possession of 58 firearms, 6,664 rounds of ammunition and methamphetamine trafficking.
     
  • Akee Ly, of Lemoyne, was sentenced on August 25, 2021, to 262 months’ imprisonment for previously being convicted of a felony and using a third party to purchase multiple firearms on his behalf. 
  • Sierra Benninger, age 26, of Mountaintop, was sentenced on June 29, 2021, to time served of 8 ½ months for providing false statements to purchase a Taurus 9mm handgun, which she was prohibited from possessing as a person who used and was addicted to a controlled substance.
     
  • Walter Valdivia, Jr., of Matamoras, was sentenced on June 21, 2021, to 33 months’ imprisonment for possession of a shotgun with a barrel length of less than 18 inches.

Drug Prosecutions

  • Omar Tollinchi-Torres, of Harrisburg, was charged on September 1, 2021, for attempting to possess with the intent to distribute more than 500 grams of cocaine and possessing a Glock model 23 .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol during and in relation to the attempted drug trafficking offense.
     
  • On August 27, 2021, Tysheen Gott, of Wilkes-Barre, was found guilty following a jury trial of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute more than 400 grams of fentanyl, one kilogram of heroin, cocaine, crack, and tramadol.  Gott was one of eleven defendants indicted.  All other co-conspirators have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
  • Michael Rinaldi, of Wilkes-Barre, was sentenced to 235 months’ imprisonment following a jury trial conviction in August 2021, of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 6 kilograms of cocaine, 1 kilogram of cocaine base, 15 grams of heroin, and 48 pounds of marijuana.  Two additional co-defendants, Duwayne Brown and Andrew Henry, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy and are awaiting sentencing.
     
  • On July 27, 2021, Modest Moreno, of Wilkes-Barre, was indicted for allegedly distributing and possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. The indictment also alleged that Modesto, a person prohibited from possessing a firearm, possessed a Ruger handgun.
  • The head of a drug trafficking organization, Charles Gibson, Jr., of Bronx, New York, was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment on June 23, 2021, for conspiring to distribute heroin, crack cocaine, and fentanyl.  Members of the drug trafficking organization possessed firearms and engaged in acts of violence. Gibson was charged in June 2017 with 14 other individuals, who all pled guilty and received sentences ranging from 84 months’ imprisonment to probation.
     
  • James R. Bell, of Newark, New Jersey was sentenced on June 21, 2021, to 240 months’ imprisonment for conspiring to distribute fentanyl and heroin which resulted in the death of a 22-year-old Monroe County man.
     
  • Two Philadelphia men, Naim Taylor and Antwan Dozier, were indicted on June 10, 2021, for conspiring to distribute heroin to a network of drug sellers and users.
     

Robbery Prosecutions

  • On March 5, 2021, Jimmy Carter, of Erie, was sentenced to 216 months’ imprisonment for robbing a Unimart convenience store and during the course of this robbery, Carter fired a handgun at the proprietor of the store.
     
  • Gerard Gaffney of Mount Ranier, Maryland, was sentenced on April 26, 2021, to 84 months’ imprisonment for his role as the driver in an armed robbery of a Rite Aid pharmacy. A stolen firearm was recovered from codefendant, David Marable, who was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment on July 21, 2020.

Community Partnerships

  • Court Assisted Re-Entry (CARE) Program.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office actively participates in the CARE Program-- a four-phase program designed to aid the rehabilitation and re-integration of federal inmates recently released into the community under federal supervised release and who face a moderate to high-risk of recidivism.

 

The Middle District of Pennsylvania CARE Program operates in the Harrisburg, Scranton and Williamsport Courts, and has existed since 2009 as one of the first federal court reentry programs in the country.  The early efforts to support court-assisted reentry helped inspire the changes that took place in courts and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country.

The CARE Program relies upon support from groundbreaking partnerships between public institutions and agencies as well as volunteer private entities and individuals to provide financial, educational, and health benefits to recently releases inmates. The U.S. Probation Office, the Federal Public Defenders and the U.S. Attorney’s Office participate in the program. The CARE Program offers an alternative program of supervision and a blend of treatment and support to effectively address offender behavior and rehabilitation. Most CARE participants have served multi-year prison sentences and face barriers to reintegration to the community.

  • Group Violence Initiative (GVI).  In 2016, the U.S. Attorney’s Office joined community and law enforcement partners in York as part of the York Group Violence Initiative (GVI). GVI is designed to reduce street group–involved homicide and gun violence. GVI was pioneered by the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College. As the National Network’s website notes, GVI has repeatedly demonstrated that violence can be dramatically reduced when a partnership of community members, law enforcement, and social service providers directly engages with the small and active number of people involved in street groups and clearly communicates a credible moral message against violence, prior notice about the consequences of further violence, and a genuine offer of help for those who want it. A central method of communication is the call-in, a face-to-face meeting between group members and the strategy’s partners. The aim of the GVI strategy is to reduce peer dynamics in the group that promote violence by creating collective accountability, to foster internal social pressure that deters violence, to establish clear community standards against violence, to offer group members an “honorable exit” from committing acts of violence, and to provide a supported path for those who want to change. The focus at the beginning of 2020 was developing the Community Moral Voice of the GVI strategy. Though interrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic, individuals are still being identified who will be “credible messengers” working in the neighborhoods on a daily basis to bring the “we want you safe, alive, and out of prison” message to group members. A partnership was formed working with WellSpan Health System to develop a Hospital Based Violence Intervention program to actively engage gun violence victims and their families. Most often these victims are also part of the groups that are involved in most of the violence in the city. The Hospital based strategy engages them at a vulnerable point where they are more receptive to engage the help that is offered. Also, as part of the effort to reduce the initial shootings, the York City Police Department developed a strong relationship with the York City 2020 Annual Report School Police to be proactive in addressing youth before they become involved in “street” activity. Statistically, there was a 34% reduction in group member involved incidents over 2019 and a 50% reduction year to date in criminal homicide incidents by firearm.
     
  • Neighborhood Social Events. The U.S. Attorney’s Office has increased involvement in neighborhood social events conducive to law enforcement participation, including community walks and National Night Out.  Although the pandemic has temporarily slowed our efforts in this area, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will resume our hard work as the pandemic subsides.
     
  • Project Safe Childhood.  In May 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the York County District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation presented a Project Safe Childhood presentation of Keeping Children Safe & Secure Online to York County Southwestern School District parents and teachers. A variety of topics were covered including: Social Media/Apps, Gaming, Cyberbullying, Sexting, Sextortion, Internet Predators, and Being Safe & Secure Online.
     
    Our office has since been invited to present the Keeping Children Safe & Secure Online presentation as a “featured session” at the PA State Superintendents' Association (PASA) annual conference with the PA School Boards' Association (PSBA) on October 6, 2021.

           

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Topic(s): 
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Updated September 8, 2021