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Press Release

Defendants Who Orchestrated Straw Purchases of Firearms Sentenced to Prison Time

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

LYNCHBURG, VIRGINIA  – Robert Joseph, a.k.a. Ruben Oakes, a convicted felon who conspired with, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms that he would then deliver to a co-conspirator, Harold Gaines, in Maryland, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court here to 27 months in federal prison. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division made the announcement today.

Joseph, 51, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally possess firearms and illegal possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon. Harold Gaines, also previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to illegally possess firearms and was sentenced to 48 months in prison.

“Eradicating gun violence remains a top priority of this office and we will seek to prosecute all individuals who break federal gun laws, putting guns in the hands of felons,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. “This prosecution is a product of Project Guardian, and I am proud of the good work of our federal and state team.”

“This case epitomizes the danger of straw purchasing firearms, specifically, providing weapons to felons who clearly intend to use them in the commission of crimes,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “The sentences handed out to both the purchaser and receiver of these illicit firearms is a clear indication that the criminal straw purchasing of weapons will have consequences. We are grateful to U.S. Attorney Cullen and our law enforcement partners for this successful outcome.”

According to court documents, Gaines paid Joseph to supply him with particular firearms and Joseph, in turn recruited, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms from gun stores in the Western District of Virginia. Joseph then delivered the weapons to Gaines in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. Gaines subsequently sold those weapons to others. Joseph obtained approximately 40 firearms for Gaines during the course of the conspiracy. Both Joseph and Gaines are convicted felons and are prohibited from legally possessing firearms.

The straw purchasers Joseph utilized, individuals whose lack of criminal history enabled them to purchase and possess firearms, were able to obtain the weapons on his behalf by falsely claiming on ATF Firearm Transaction Form that they were the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) when in fact they were not. For their role in this offense, Jazzmine Irvin, Janika Barksdale, and Ashley Gunter each were convicted of conspiracy to make false statements on a firearms form. Irvin and Barksdale were sentenced to 45 days in prison and a period of home confinement thereafter. Gunter received a sentence of 45 days home confinement. All defendants in this conspiracy were also sentenced to a term of supervised release.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Danville Police Department, and the Lynchburg Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Coleman Adams prosecuted the case for the United States.

This case was brought as 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.

Updated July 30, 2020

Project Guardian