Two Men Indicted in Scheme to Straw Purchase Firearms in Wisconsin and Re-Sell Them in Chicago
CHICAGO — Two men have been indicted on federal firearm charges for conspiring to straw purchase 19 handguns in Wisconsin and re-sell them in Chicago.
Wisconsin resident KIRK VALENTINE purchased the firearms at retail stores, pawn shops and gun shows, and falsely certified on required forms that he was the actual buyer, according to an indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago. In reality, Valentine was a straw purchaser who knowingly bought the guns at the direction of FRANCISCO ROCHA, a Chicago resident who identified which firearms he wanted and paid Valentine a premium over the list prices, the indictment states. In the first six months of 2018, the pair caused at least 19 handguns to be purchased in Wisconsin and transported to Chicago, where Rocha and others re-sold and distributed them, the indictment states.
The indictment was returned Aug. 1, 2019, and ordered unsealed Wednesday. Valentine, 23, of La Crosse, Wisc., and Rocha, 28, are charged with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license, and unlawfully dealing and importing firearms.
“Straw purchasers and firearm traffickers enable unlawful possession of guns and the violence that may follow,” said John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “Fighting violent crime is a top priority in our office, and we are committed to holding accountable those who engage in illicit firearm transactions.”
U.S. Attorney Lausch announced the charges along with Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the FBI, and Eddie Johnson, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives provided assistance. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Albert Berry III and Elizabeth Pozolo.
“Straw purchasing firearms is not a victimless crime,” said FBI Assistant SAC Larry L. Lapp. “It is a serious danger to our communities. This indictment demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to help stop the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods.”
“We are going to continue to use the full weight of the Chicago Police Department and U.S. Justice Department to send a clear message that we will not tolerate the proliferation and use of illegal guns in Chicago,” said CPD Supt. Johnson. “This case is the latest example of the daily work police officers, federal agents and United States Attorneys are doing to safeguard communities and create a culture of accountability for gun offenders.”
During the investigation, law enforcement utilized ATF’s National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. NIBIN is a proven investigative and intelligence tool that can link firearms from multiple crime scenes, allowing law enforcement to quickly disrupt shooting cycles. NIBIN is the only national network that allows for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms.
Rocha was arrested in Wisconsin on Aug. 9, 2019. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday during his arraignment in federal court in Chicago before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel A. Fuentes. Rocha was ordered to remain in federal custody pending a detention hearing on Sept. 10, 2019, at 1:30 p.m.
Valentine self-surrendered to the Court on Aug. 5, 2019. He pleaded not guilty during his arraignment that day in federal court in Chicago before U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez. He was ordered released on bond, and a status hearing was scheduled for Sept. 17, 2019, before U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee.
The indictment describes seven firearm transactions in Wisconsin:
- March 8, 2018: Valentine purchased three handguns at Gander Outdoors in Onalaska, Wisc.
- March 23, 2018: Valentine purchased two handguns from a dealer at Bob and Rocco’s Gun Show in Onalaska, Wisc.
- April 13, 2018: Valentine purchased a handgun at Big Rooster Firearms in Sparta, Wisc.
- May 13, 2018: Valentine purchased two handguns at Ace Hardware in La Crosse, Wisc.
- May 17, 2018: Valentine purchased two handguns at Holmen Pawn Shop in Holmen, Wisc.
- May 19, 2018: Valentine purchased two handguns from a dealer at Bob and Rocco’s Gun Show in Onalaska, Wisc.
- May 19, 2018: Valentine purchased seven handguns from a dealer at Bob and Rocco’s Gun Show in Onalaska, Wisc.
Holding straw purchasers accountable through federal prosecution is a centerpiece of Project Safe Neighborhoods – the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction strategy. In the Northern District of Illinois, U.S. Attorney Lausch and law enforcement partners have deployed the PSN program to attack a broad range of violent crime issues facing the district, including by prosecuting individuals who illegally purchase firearms.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Each count of the indictment is punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison. If convicted, the Court must impose reasonable sentences under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.