ST. GEORGE — Federal prosecutors have filed 15 firearms cases in St. George since the beginning of 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Federal prosecutors are partnering with local police officers, task forces and federal agents in an effort to target individuals prohibited under federal laws from possessing firearms or ammunition, interim Utah U.S. Attorney John W. Huber said in a statement Monday.
Most of the defendants have previous felony convictions, Huber added, and many are charged with possession of drugs or violations of other federal laws in addition to the firearms count.
“Federal firearms laws are a valuable tool we use to reduce violent crime and protect Utah communities,” Huber said.
The following are three examples of the federal cases filed in Southern Utah this year.
U.S. v. Verne Francis Holmes, III
Verne Francis Holmes III, 47, of St. George, was indicted in March on one count of a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
After setting off a shoplifting alarm in a St. George department store in January, Holmes was confronted by store employees before fleeing the store and leaving in a vehicle, according to a complaint filed in the case. Employees called the police.
The car entered the parking lot of a St. George restaurant where Holmes began shuffling property in the car and then removed the license plate, the complaint stated. An off-duty detective from Salt Lake City was observing Holmes’ actions and became suspicious.
When St. George Police arrived on scene, Holmes was located hiding behind the restaurant. Officers found .22-caliber ammunition in a backpack in his possession, according to a complaint. During a search of the car, officers located more ammunition and a Hi-Standard .22-caliber revolver.
A writ has been issued for Holmes to appear in federal court in St. George on the charges. He faces up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
U.S. v. Clinton Michael Johnson
Clinton Michael Johnson, 39, of Cedar City, was stopped by a Cedar City Police officer for a traffic violation on Nov. 14, 2016. Johnson could not provide proof of insurance for the vehicle but said he could call the owner of the vehicle who would bring the proof of insurance to the officer.
While waiting for the owner to arrive, the officer detected the odor of marijuana and called for an Iron County Sheriff narcotics K-9, according to a complaint filed in the case. The dog alerted to the presence of narcotics inside the vehicle. A search of the vehicle revealed methamphetamine, two digital scales, numerous small plastic baggies, a loaded .45-caliber handgun and Winchester .45-caliber ammunition.
On the day of his arrest, Johnson was supposed to report to federal prison to start a 40-month sentence in another case. He was federally indicted in January and pleaded guilty to possession of the ammunition in February. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced in May by U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart.
U.S. v. William Henry Woods
William Henry Woods, 38, of Tennessee, was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of counterfeit currency in an indictment returned Feb. 1. This charge was in relation to a November 2016 incident in which a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy stopped a car in Washington City for traffic violations.
The driver provided the deputy with a driver’s license that included a photo that did not resemble the driver, according to a complaint filed in the case. While the deputy was checking the license, the driver drove away, traveling a short distance before driving off the road and fleeing on foot.
During a search of the vehicle, officers found a loaded Sig Sauer P938 9mm pistol, the complaint stated. Records show the pistol was reported stolen in Memphis, Tennessee. Officers also located approximately 42 $50 bills in the vehicle’s center console. Each of the bills shared one of four serial numbers, indicative of counterfeit bills.
The driver, identified as Woods, was arrested. At the time, he was on federal supervised release in Tennessee after recently completing a 10-year prison sentence for another firearms violation.
Woods pleaded guilty to the firearms count in the indictment on March 27. Sentencing is set for Aug. 7 at 1:30 p.m. in St. George before U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart. Woods faces up to 10 years in federal prison for the firearms conviction.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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