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Press Release

Final Member Of Benton Harbor Machinegun And Drug Trafficking Investigation Sentenced

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

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan Mark Totten today announced that Earl Austin IV, 22, of Benton Harbor, Michigan was sentenced to 108 months in prison for his part in trafficking methamphetamine, guns, and machinegun switches. Austin is the last of 17 defendants, from three criminal indictments to be sentenced from this investigation.

          “The families of Benton Harbor deserve to carry out their lives without the fear of violence.” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “Safety is a civil right. These cases represent our commitment to making that right a reality. While we can never prosecute our way out of the gun violence epidemic, accountability for those few individuals who are driving violence is critical.” 

          On December 15, 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan announced charges against 10 defendants, including Earl Austin IV.  Seven additional defendants were later charged in three different criminal cases.

          In this case, investigators seized over one pound of methamphetamine, five firearms, and three machinegun switches over the course of six months. Undercover officers bought methamphetamine, fentanyl, and oxycodone from Austin on 17 different occasions.  On two occasions in August and September of 2022, Austin sold machinegun switches to undercover officers. Austin then sold an assault rifle and two pistols on three separate occasions from November to December 2022. Police eventually executed a search warrant at Austin’s residence and found more methamphetamine and two guns. Austin is a felon and prohibited from possessing firearms. Austin proceeded to trial, where a jury found him guilty on all 15 counts of the indictment.

          Austin’s codefendants pleaded guilty. Robert Griffin was sentenced to 70 months in prison for selling methamphetamine. Rhonda Acklin was sentenced to 41 months in prison for selling methamphetamine. Evorion Anderson was sentenced to 70 months in prison for selling methamphetamine and machinegun switches.

          Ten other defendants were charged with firearm violations, mostly related to machinegun switches.  In that case, Torez Burnett imported machine gun conversion devices, or “switches,” from China and distributed them to members of his street gang, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK), and others in Benton Harbor and Grand Rapids.

          Finally, in a third case, three defendants were charged with being felons in possession of firearms.  Following a jury trial in August 2023, a jury convicted each man of being a felon in possession of a firearm. At sentencing, Chief Judge Hala Jarbou found that Mark Curtis possessed his gun in connection with first degree premeditated murder.

          “Families in Benton Harbor can take comfort in knowing the individuals responsible for distributing harmful drugs throughout the community and possessing dangerous weapons were held accountable for their crimes,” said Cheyvoryea Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan. “It is through the tremendous partnerships fostered among our local, state, and federal partners that we are able to find and apprehend criminals who endanger public safety.”

          Serious crimes have serious consequences. Illegal machinegun conversion devices are a threat to our community and public safety. They are not toys and they have no place in our communities,” said ATF Detroit Field Division Special Agent in Charge James Deir. “Mr. Austin chose to illegally convert firearms while conspiring to distribute methamphetamines onto our streets.  Ultimately, Mr. Austin and his co-cohorts will have considerable time in prison to reflect on their poor decisions.”

          This case was investigated by the FBI, ATF, DEA, Michigan State Police, Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety, Berrien County Sheriff’s Office, Benton Charter Township Police Department, and the Pokagon Band Tribal Police Department.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick J. Castle and Jacob S. Metoxen handled the prosecution.


Updated June 13, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses