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Press Release

Mason City Drug User Sentenced to Federal Prison for Lying About Drug Use to Buy an AK-47-Style Rifle

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of Iowa
One of five guns Despenas illegally purchased was found loaded, lying in a yard

A man who falsely claimed he was not a drug user when buying an AK-47-style rifle in 2018 was sentenced July 11, 2019, to nearly three years in federal prison.

Braiden Robert William Despenas, age 22, from Mason City, Iowa, received the prison term after a March 4, 2019 guilty plea to being an unlawful drug user in possession of a firearm and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.

In a plea agreement, Despenas admitted that he was an unlawful marijuana user between at least October 2017 and March 2018.  Court records show that in October 2017 Despenas was involved in an injury collision while he was driving under the influence of marijuana.  In March 2018, Despenas purchased an AK‑47‑style rifle with a high‑capacity magazine from a federal firearms licensee in Dubuque.  Despenas admitted that while completing ATF forms during the purchase of the rifle he falsely denied that he as a drug user. 

Court records further show that Despenas purchased at least five firearms between October 2017 and May 2018.  He falsely claimed he was not a drug user on each form.  In October 2017, Despenas bought two pistols in Mason City.  Less than two months later, Mason City police recovered one of those pistols after it was found lying, loaded with four rounds, in a yard in Mason City.

During a search of Despenas’s home in June 2018, officers recovered manuals, boxes, and ammunition for some of the firearms, but no firearms.  Despenas claimed the pistols he purchased in October 2017 were stolen, but that he had not reported the theft.  He also initially stated he “believed” he purchased the AK-47-style rifle, but denied, or claimed he could not recall, purchasing other firearms.  When confronted with the fact that officers had purchase paperwork for all of the firearms, Despenas admitted to purchasing them.  He claimed he had thrown one of them in a river because it did not work correctly, and that two others were at a relative’s house.  Police recovered two of the firearms at another apartment associated with Despenas in Mason City later that day.  Two firearms Despenas illegally purchased have never been recovered by law enforcement.

Despenas was sentenced in Cedar Rapids by United States District Court Judge C.J. Williams.  Despenas was sentenced to 33 months’ imprisonment on each charge, to be served concurrently.  He must also serve a three-year term of supervised release after the prison term.  There is no parole in the federal system.

Despenas is being held in the United States Marshal’s custody until he can be transported to a federal prison.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Mason City Police Department, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Dan Chatham. 

Court file information at

The case file number is 19-CR-03001-CJW-MAR.

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Updated July 15, 2019

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