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Press Release

Three More Straw Purchasers Plead Guilty in Connection with Beckley-Philadelphia Firearms Trafficking Conspiracy

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

BECKLEY, W.Va. – Maurice Johnson, 36, of Mount Hope, and Beckley residents Donte Webster, 22, and Kyla Gilbert, 25, each pleaded guilty today to making straw firearm purchases in connection with a conspiracy to traffic more than 130 firearms from the Beckley area to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Johnson, Webster and Gilbert are among more than a dozen individuals charged in connection with the firearms trafficking conspiracy, which took place from around June 2020 to around July 2021. More than 40 of the firearms have been recovered in Philadelphia and have been connected to two homicides, crimes of domestic violence, and other violent offenses.

“Stopping straw purchasers is critical to keeping our communities safe,” said United States Attorney Will Thompson. “As this case continues to show, great harm is inflicted on people’s lives when firearms are provided to those who are prohibited from possessing them. As I’ve stated before, the fact that firearms are being purchased in southern West Virginia and taken to Philadelphia to be used in homicides should be of great concern both to our state and our nation. I commend the ATF for their continuing work in helping us prosecute this case.”

According to court documents and statements made in court, Johnson and Webster admitted to purchasing firearms for co-defendant Bisheem Jones, also known as “Bosh.” Through an intermediary, Jones provided each with the money to purchase firearms and told them which ones to buy.

Johnson admitted to buying a HS Produkt, Model XDS MOD (Springfield Armory), 9mm pistol and a Ruger, Security-9, 9mm pistol, in Mount Hope on December 29, 2020. Webster admitted to purchasing a Glock 19Gen5, 9mm pistol, a Glock 26Gen5, 9mm pistol, and a Taurus G2C, 9mm pistol in Beckley on July 6, 2021. Webster further admitted that he bought at least 13 firearms for Jones in June and July, 2021, so Jones and others could transport and resell them outside of West Virginia.

Gilbert admitted to purchasing two Ruger, Model Ruger 57, 5.7x28-caliber pistols in Beckley on May 10, 2021, for Denise Johnson, a co-defendant of Jones, Maurice Johnson and Webster. Gilbert admitted that Denise Johnson gave her the money to purchase the firearms and told her which ones to buy. Gilbert further admitted to buying at least four firearms for Denise Johnson in April and May, 2021.

Maurice Johnson, Webster and Gilbert each pleaded guilty to making false statements in acquisition of firearms, admitting they falsely certified on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Federal Firearms Transaction Record Form 4473 that they were the buyers of the firearms when they knew they were buying the firearms for someone else.

Five co-defendants have also pleaded guilty to making false statements in acquisition of firearms, admitting to making straw purchases in the conspiracy: Tyana Bly, Stephanie Cohernour, Arileah Lacy, Terri Lawhorn and Lakeshia Nicole Simon. Co-defendant Derrick Woodard pleaded guilty to interstate travel with the intent to engage in dealing firearms without a license. Six additional defendants have pleaded guilty to firearms offenses related to the same interstate gun trafficking conspiracy: Megan Bickford, Jaleel Delaney, Michelle Grim, Brandon Lawson, Dejaha Morris, and Sequoyah Swain. The case remains pending against Jones, Denise Johnson and three other co-defendants. An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Maurice Johnson is scheduled to be sentenced on December 9, 2022. Webster and Gilbert are scheduled to be sentenced on December 15, 2022. Each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

United States District Judge Frank W. Volk presided over the hearing. Assistant United States Attorney Negar M. Kordestani is prosecuting the cases.

These cases are part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), 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.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case No. 5:22-cr-46 and 5:22-cr-127.

 

 

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Updated July 28, 2022

Topics
Project Safe Neighborhoods
Firearms Offenses