Anchorage vehicle thefts lead to federal gun charges
Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that they were charging 10 people as felons in possession of firearms after their arrests in Anchorage vehicle thefts, part of a move to target violent offenders and deter the stealing of cars in Alaska’s largest city.
U.S. Attorney for Alaska Bryan Schroder's office said Thursday that the indicted defendants included Jesse Contreras, 24; Christopher Curtin, 30; Timothy Fyffe, 35; Jarsis Howard, 40; Cody Iverson, 23; Poly Lomu, 21; Todd Margerum, 47; Antoni Peralta, 31; Navy Tauinaola, 35; and Tony Tuaato, 23. An 11th defendant, 39-year-old Roy Naughton, was indicted on federal carjacking charges in December.
Anchorage police have reported that at least three of the defendants – Howard, Iverson and Lomu – rammed APD cruisers prior to their arrest on vehicle-theft charges in recent months. Schroder’s office said in a statement Thursday that Howard has previously been convicted of failure to register as a sex offender, Iverson was convicted of robbery and Lomu was convicted of theft and vehicle theft.
In October, Schroder and Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth announced that federal prosecutors would focus their efforts on violent offenders in Alaska crimes, marked by federal charges against two men suspected in a series of Anchorage coffee-shop robberies last year.
Schroder told reporters that the felon-in-possession charges are the latest example of that renewed focus, as his office moves to help state and local authorities as well as expand enforcement under Project Safe Neighborhoods ordered by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“We’ve been doing that but joining forces to take on one of the most visible symptoms of that problem, which is auto theft, is just another part of that strategy,” Schroder said.
Although Schroder emphasized that the federal charges were being filed in addition to rather than instead of state cases, he did note that federal courts offer differences from Alaska law and sentencing guidelines.
“State felon in possession law does not apply in all cases to long guns,” Schroder said. “Another reason is that we get pretty serious sentences on these crimes at the federal level, so it gives us a bit more of a hammer.”
APD Chief Justin Doll said the department’s expansion to more than 400 sworn officers under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was letting officers more fully take on a recent sharp rise in local vehicle thefts.
“We are constantly looking to see what we can do to address these emerging crime trends,” Doll said. “We’ve had this capacity to start addressing issues, being a little more proactive.”
Christina Sherman, Anchorage’s assistant district attorney, said state prosecutors are still working on vehicle-theft cases, but that the addition of federal charges can bolster their efforts. She noted that although Senate Bill 91’s reduction of presumptive sentencing guidelines is often blamed for rises in Alaska crime, Senate Bill 54 includes longer sentences for vehicle theft.
“When we notice that there’s that violent link, I think that charging felon in possession makes sense,” Sherman said. “When we have a vehicle theft case come in where we can prove the elements, we go forward with that case – we have quite a few vehicle-theft cases that don’t involve any weapon that are being prosecuted.”
Schroder said that although his office currently has only 18 assistant U.S. attorneys, placing a “natural limitation” on the number of vehicle-cases which can receive federal intervention, the Department of Justice is seeking funding under Project Safe Neighborhoods for 300 additional prosecutors nationwide.
“I think we’re going to have a strong pitch to put in for one or two of those here,” Schroder said.
Chris Klint contributed information to this story.
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