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Press Release

Felon with multiple convictions charged with possessing a firearm, also possessed a meat cleaver and a dagger

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

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont stated that Rafael Ortiz, 44, of Ascutney, Vermont appeared today in federal court after being charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.  Ortiz was ordered detained by United States Magistrate Judge Kevin Doyle pending a detention hearing currently scheduled for Monday.

According to court records and other information presented in court, on May 19, 2021, law enforcement officers were searching for Rafael Ortiz because he had multiple outstanding warrants for Vermont state charges, including warrants for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, assault and robbery with a weapon, and eluding law enforcement officers. While in Lyndon, Vermont, officers saw Ortiz walking and attempted to arrest him. Officers instructed Ortiz multiple times to raise his hands and get on the ground. Ortiz refused and ran from the officers. During his flight, Ortiz pulled a black firearm from his waistband and tossed it into some nearby bushes.  An officer’s body camera footage captured Ortiz throwing his gun.  Eventually, officers caught and arrested Ortiz, and found Ortiz to be in possession of a meat cleaver and a dagger.  The firearm Ortiz discarded was identified as a Sig Sauer P320 9-millimeter handgun with an obliterated serial number.  

On May 20, 2021, Ortiz was charged via criminal complaint with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  The United States Attorney emphasizes that the charges in the complaint are accusations, and that the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.  

Acting United States Attorney Jonathan A. Ophardt stated: “The United States Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners are focused on apprehending violent criminals plaguing our communities.  Federal firearm statutes remain key tools in addressing potential violence before it occurs, and holding individuals accountable for criminal conduct with firearms.  I am greatly appreciative of the investigatory efforts of the Vermont Drug Task Force and the Vermont State Police, as well as the vital assistance of the St. Johnsbury Police Department.”

Caledonia County State’s Attorney Jessica Zaleski stated: “Thank you to our local, State and Federal law enforcement for working collaboratively to apprehend Mr. Ortiz. It is this type of collaboration that allows us to best serve the community and get dangerous offenders out of the neighborhoods of Caledonia County.”

This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.  For more information about Project Guardian, please see

The United States is represented in this matter by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis.  Assistant Federal Public Defender David McColgin represents the defendant.

Updated May 20, 2021

Project Guardian
Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime