Federal judge convicts Missoula man of firearms crimes in trial
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Montana
MISSOULA — A federal judge today convicted a Missoula man on multiple firearms crimes after presiding in a bench trial, U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich said.
U.S. District Judge Dana L. Christensen found Michael Blake DeFrance, 29, guilty on all counts charged in a second superseding indictment, including prohibited person in possession of a firearm and three counts of false statement during a firearms transaction. The trial began on April 26 and concluded the next day.
DeFrance faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release on each count. Sentencing was set for Sept. 21. DeFrance was released pending further proceedings.
“These verdicts are victories for Montana women, domestic partners, and families. The verdicts show that those like DeFrance who illegally possess firearms despite having been convicted of a domestic violence crime and make false statements on firearms forms so he could obtain guns at a pawn shop will be held accountable for their actions. I thank Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer S. Clark and Timothy J. Racicot, along with the FBI, for their extraordinarily hard work on this case,” U.S. Attorney Laslovich said.
In court documents and at trial, the government alleged that on June 27, 2018, a Missoula Police Department detective located a Smith and Wesson .357-caliber revolver and a box of .357-caliber ammunition in the console of DeFrance’s truck. Two .22-caliber rifles were located under the back seat. On Oct. 2, 2018, law enforcement executed a search warrant on DeFrance’s residence and located a .357-caliber revolver on a desk by the front door. The detective recognized this gun as the revolver DeFrance had in his truck in June. DeFrance also had two rifles in his bedroom. When asked if he knew he was not supposed to have guns, DeFrance replied, “I was never clear on that.”
The government further alleged that in May 2013, DeFrance was sentenced for partner or family member assault on Jermain Charlo in Sanders County. A justice of the peace presided over DeFrance’s change of plea hearing and imposed sentence. DeFrance signed a waiver of rights form in which he acknowledged his rights, which included – on a list of possible consequences of pleading guilty – the loss of firearms rights. The same form contained space for DeFrance to explain the basis for his guilty plea, and his form stated, “On 4-14-2013, in Sanders County I caused bodily injury to my girlfriend.”
In addition, the government alleged that on three occasions in 2018, DeFrance completed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives forms at a Missoula pawn shop in which he represented that he had not been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. Prior to and after the assault in 2013, Charlo stayed with DeFrance in a camper on property belonging to the DeFrance family. Charlo and DeFrance were in an intimate relationship.
The government alleged DeFrance was prohibited from possessing firearms because he had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence and that he knowingly made false written statements on three occasions in 2018 at a Missoula pawn shop in connection with his acquisition and attempted acquisition of three firearms.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer S. Clark and Timothy J. Racicot prosecuted the case, which was investigated by the FBI.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.
Clair Johnson Howard
Public Affairs Officer
Updated May 1, 2023
Press Release Number: 23-134
Project Safe Neighborhoods