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Press Release

Three-year Crackdown by U.S. Attorney and District Attorney Keep Career Criminals in Prison Longer, Communities Safer

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of California

Assistant U. S. Attorney Andrew R. Haden (619) 546-6961    

NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – November 22, 2016

SAN DIEGO –Steven Doyle Burton, a documented Skyline PIRU gang member, was sentenced in federal court recently to 15 years in prison for possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and for being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition.

Burton’s case is one of more than 100 prosecuted in federal court over the last three years under a renewed emphasis on gun crimes by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In 2013, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy committed additional resources to the aggressive prosecution of firearms cases – particularly those involving career felons who would get more significant sentences in federal court versus state court. The aim was to work with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office to use federal statutes to their fullest extent to protect communities from the most dangerous felons.

“This collaborative effort is working,” said U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy. “These career criminals are getting sentences that are as much as three times longer than what they would’ve received in state court, and that means our communities are safer.”

“Our gang prosecutors routinely coordinate and cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to reduce gang violence and keep our neighborhoods safer,” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. “Our common goal is to determine which agency can best hold an offender accountable.”

Without the increased emphasis on firearms-related cases, Burton would have been prosecuted by the state, where he would have been eligible for a 50 percent reduction that didn’t apply on the federal side. In contrast, by statute all federal prisoners are required to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their prison sentence. 

Duffy tapped Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden to head the U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Safe Neighborhoods program in this district. The nationwide program aims to reduce gun and gang crime.  Duffy directed Haden to coordinate with the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement agencies to aggressively prosecute firearms cases.

Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has federally prosecuted more than one hundred cases involving firearms that would not typically have been pursued. 

In Burton’s case, a federal jury found him guilty earlier this year.

At trial, the jury heard the testimony of several officers from the San Diego Police Department’s Crime Suppression Team (CST) who had arrested Burton with approximately 38 grams of crack cocaine, along with multiple firearms and $35,700 in cash. 

A career criminal, Burton had been previously convicted in Superior Court in San Diego in 2005 and 2014 for dealing crack cocaine.  Burton was referred by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office Gang Unit for federal prosecution via the Project Safe Neighborhoods program after his most recent arrest.  He was sentenced on November 15, 2016.

The largest source of cases for the PSN program has been the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.  Specifically, the Gang Unit began to strategically refer cases involving firearms for federal prosecution.  In doing so, they have attempted to identify individuals that pose a significant threat to citizens of San Diego who – for a variety of reasons – are not being deterred by the California criminal justice system.

For example, the first firearms case brought under the renewed program was U.S. v. Catlin, 13-CR-1568-JLS.  Catlin was known to law enforcement as a prominent leader within the 5/9 Brim street gang in southeast San Diego.  Despite his notoriety, Catlin had been able to avoid a serious criminal conviction after receiving a five-year prison sentence for dealing crack cocaine in 2002.

In March 2013, Catlin was caught by officers from the San Diego Police Department in possession of a loaded firearm.  Because it had been more than a decade since his last criminal conviction, Catlin was perceived as likely to receive a probationary sentence in state court.  Instead, Catlin was prosecuted federally and was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison.

After the successful prosecution of Catlin, the San Diego Police Department Gang Suppression Team (“GST”) continued to refer cases for federal prosecution.  Those cases often highlighted the dangerous scenarios that officers face on patrol in southeast San Diego.

In another example, several officers from the GST, including Jonathon DeGuzman, testified at a federal trial in 2015 in support of U.S. v. Angulo, 15-CR-2713-GPC.  Angulo had been arrested during a traffic stop for being a felon in possession of a firearm.  After being convicted, Angulo was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison by U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel.  Officer DeGuzman was killed in the line of duty approximately seven months later, on July 28, 2016. 

The Department of Homeland Security has also been a source of firearms cases prosecuted under the renewed PSN commitment.  Sergio Garcia-Rico from Chula Vista was sentenced to five years and eight months in prison after admitting to buying weapons and ammunition at gun shows across California intending to sell them to members of a drug cartel in Mexico.

Finally, although they have played a significant role in every federal firearms case brought via the PSN program, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives (“ATF”) has also referred their own independent firearms investigations for prosecution. 

The cases referred by ATF have been diverse.  They have included cases involving individuals who illegally purchased firearms in Arizona and were transporting them to California, like former Border Patrol Agent Rene Martinez in U.S. v. Martinez, 16-CR-462.  ATF has also brought cases involving the illegal manufacturing and selling of assault-style firearms within San Diego, like U.S. v. Soukkeo, et al., 14-CR-3004-LAB.

Investigations into the unlawful sale of assault-style firearms often lead ATF to potentially larger criminal activity.  In April, Jessie Soto pleaded guilty in federal court to unlawfully selling assault-style firearms and for conspiring to have someone murdered by a Mexican hitman – who was actually an ATF agent working in an undercover capacity.  Soto is scheduled to be sentenced on December 16, 2016.  U.S. v. v. Soto, 16-CR-248-JLS. 

DEFENDANT                                               Case Number 16cr746-AJB                                    

Steven Doyle Burton                                      Age: 36                                   San Diego, CA


Possession of Crack Cocaine with Intent to Distribute, in violation of Title 21 US.C. 841(a)(1),

Maximum penalty: 40 years’ imprisonment and $5 million fine

Felon in possession of Firearms, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)

Maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment and $1 million fine

Felon in possession of Ammunition, in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)

Maximum penalty: 10 years’ imprisonment and $1 million fine


Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms & Explosives

Updated November 22, 2016

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Press Release Number: CAS16-1122-Burton