U.S. Attorney Announces Results Of First 2 Weeks Of Federal Violence Prevention And Elimination Response (VIPER) Task Force
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of New York
CONTACT: Barbara Burns
PHONE: (716) 843-5817
FAX #: (716) 551-3051
BUFFALO, N.Y.- U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr. announced today the results of the first two weeks of the Federal Violence Prevention and Elimination Response (VIPER) Task Force, a 60-day surge aimed at removing violent gun offenders from the streets of Rochester and Buffalo to enhance public safety and reduce violent crime. For the period between July 7 and July 22, 2021, the following combined results were achieved in Rochester and Buffalo through VIPER:
• Total Arrests – 138
o Firearm Related Arrests - 45
o Narcotics Related Arrests - 45
o Violent Felony Arrests - 38
• Total Illegal Firearms Seized - 22
• Defendants Adopted for Federal Prosecution - 15 (with 21 additional defendants currently under review for federal prosecution).
“All residents in both Rochester and Buffalo deserve, and are entitled, to feel safe in their own homes,” stated U.S. Attorney Kennedy. “Our efforts are designed to remove the worst of the worst from the streets of our communities, and the guns from their hands, so that residents can do just that. The tremendous coordination between federal, state, and local law enforcement combined with the outstanding cooperation we have received from the community have combined thus far to produce some pretty remarkable results.”
Representative Investigations and Federal Prosecutions in both Rochester and Buffalo:
Among the cases charged federal in Rochester, NY, was Raquon Lewis, 24, of Rochester, NY, who was charged by criminal complaint with two separate incidents of being a felon-in-possession of a firearm. According to the criminal complaint, on June 24, 2021, at approximately 2:00 p.m., Rochester Police Officers responded to a call for multiple “shots fired” in the area of the North Union Street/Lays Alley/Weld Street. Prior to the call, numerous civilians were congregating in the area for the funeral procession/celebration of life for 26-year-old Lavar Beard, who was murdered there two days earlier. Given heightened tensions surrounding the murder, several Rochester Police officers were already assigned to the area to monitor the gathering and personally heard multiple gunshots being fired. The eruption in gunfire resulted in at least one person being struck with non-life threatening injuries. At least two firearms were recovered at the scene, as well as numerous casings.
Immediately prior to these gunshots, defendant Lewis was observed, via city blue light cameras, standing with others in front of “Awsan Grocery,” located at the intersection of North Union and Weld Streets, facing east. Another male walked up behind Lewis and pointed a gun point-blank at Lewis’ head. As a result, everyone in the area, including Lewis, fled the area in all directions. Lewis was observed running behind the store and west bound on Weld Street to his vehicle. As Lewis was running, he collided with several other individuals who were involved in the melee, causing him to fall to the ground near the rear of his car. As he fell, Lewis dropped a 9mm semiautomatic pistol loaded with 18 rounds of ammunition.
On July 16, 2021, a search warrant was executed at Lewis’ residence on Travers Circle in Rochester. During the search, investigators found a loaded 9mm pistol in a couch where Lewis had been sitting. Investigators also recovered approximately $2,395 in cash on Lewis’ person. In addition, quantities of crack cocaine, cocaine, and three electronic scales were also recovered. In 2013, Lewis was convicted of Attempted Criminal Possession of a Weapon in New York State Court and is legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.
In Buffalo, Michael Johnson, 43, of Buffalo, NY, was charged by criminal complaint with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes and being a felon in possession of a firearm. According to the criminal complaint, On July 21, 2021, investigators from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and Buffalo Police Intelligence Unit set up surveillance in the vicinity of the defendant’s Rogers Avenue residence and observed Johnson carrying a blue shopping bag out of the residence and entering the front passenger seat of a vehicle bearing Ohio plates. Law enforcement executed a traffic stop and Johnson initially provided a false name. Johnson was ordered out of the vehicle but refused and struggled with law enforcement. While law enforcement attempted to remove the defendant, officers observed the blue shopping bag inside the vehicle. During a search of the vehicle, investigators recovered a loaded 9mm handgun from inside the blue shopping bag, approximately 28 grams of suspected fentanyl, ammunition, unidentified pills, and a digital scale. Investigators then executed a search warrant at Johnson’s Rogers Avenue residence and recovered a revolver, ammunition, and a digital scale. In March 2008, Johnson was convicted in Albany County Court of Attempted Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd Degree, and as a result is legally prohibited from possessing a firearm.
The VIPER Task Force involves enhanced information sharing, enhanced proactive investigations and prosecutions, and the improvement relations between the community and law enforcement.
Members of the VIPER Task Force include the United States Attorney’s Office, under the direction U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy, Jr.; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge John B. Devito, New York Field Division; the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Stephen Belongia; the United States Marshals Service, under the direction of Marshal Charles Salina; Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Kevin Kelly; and the Drug Enforcement Administration, under the direction of Special Agent-in-Charge Ray Donovan, New York Field Division. VIPER Task Force members in Rochester also include: the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, under the direction of District Attorney Sandra Doorley; the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Todd Baxter; and the Rochester Police Department, under the direction of Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan. VIPER Task Force members in Buffalo also include: the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, under the direction of District Attorney John Flynn; the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy Howard; and the Buffalo Police Department, under the direction of Chief Byron Lockwood.
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Updated July 6, 2023