A convicted felon, who possessed drugs he intended to distribute and a gun inside a Wal-Mart, was convicted by a jury on July 13, 2021, after a two-day trial in federal court in Cedar Rapids.
Sylvester Cunningham, age 41, from Blue Island, Illinois, was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing crack and powder cocaine with the intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The verdict was returned following about six hours of jury deliberations.
The evidence at trial showed that at about 11:00 A.M. on August 7, 2020, Cunningham, who was in a wheelchair, entered the vestibule of a Wal-Mart store in Cedar Rapids. Cunningham moved from his wheelchair into a Wal-Mart electric shopping cart. A short time later, while helping Cunningham look for a lost cellphone, a Wal-Mart employee lifted the cushion of Cunningham’s wheelchair and saw a .357 caliber revolver.
The employee alerted an off-duty Cedar Rapids Police Department officer who was providing security for the store. The officer retrieved the gun. After finding out that Cunningham was on federal supervised release for a prior gun charge, police officers arrested him. While searching him as part of the arrest, officers located thirteen individual baggies of crack and powder cocaine concealed in Cunningham’s clothing.
Prior to August 7, 2020, Cunningham had received two felony convictions. First, in 2004, Cunningham was convicted of felony operating while intoxicated in Illinois. Second, in 2012, Cunningham was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in the federal district court for the Northern District of Iowa. In the 2012 case, Cunningham was found in possession of a rifle after he crashed the car he was driving in Cedar County, Iowa.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN). PSN is 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.
Sentencing before United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams will be set after a presentence report is prepared. Cunningham was taken into custody by the United States Marshal after the verdict was returned and will remain in custody pending sentencing. Cunningham faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment, a $1,500,000 fine, and up to life on supervised release following any imprisonment.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Anthony Morfitt and Special Assistant United States Attorney Devra Hake and investigated by the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the Cedar Rapids Safe Streets Task Force. The task force is composed of representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Marion Police Department, and the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
Court file information at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.
The case file number is 20-CR-104.
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