Tampa, FL — U.S. Attorney Robert E. O’Neill, along with Special Agent in Charge (Tampa) Julie Torres of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Chief Lisa Womack, Lakeland Police Department, announce the results of a joint operation charging twenty–five individuals with federal firearms and drug trafficking crimes. In addition, sixteen more individuals are charged with state offenses. The penalties faced by defendants in this investigation vary based upon the drug amounts and types, as well as their criminal histories. Maximum penalties for some include up to life imprisonment.
Beginning in July 2012, Operation "Smoke–N–Guns" began targeting convicted felons, drug dealers and gang members who were illegally possessing or selling firearms in the Lakeland, Florida area.
"This investigation targeted those criminals and felons who are prohibited from possessing guns," said U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill. "Today’s operation was aimed at getting those illegal guns out of the hands of criminals and off the streets."
"Operation ’Smoke–N–Guns’ is the essence of great law enforcement collaboration and teamwork," said Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Julie Torres. "I am very proud of the men and women of ATF who worked very hard alongside our partners to put the worst of the worst behind bars. This case is a good representation of what we should continue to achieve."
Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack stated, "Reducing gun violence in the City of Lakeland and our area is a top priority of this department. The proliferation of gun violence in our area and across the nation is disturbing and this operation is a step in the right direction in reducing the number of guns on our streets. The teamwork between Lakeland officers and our partners in this operation was phenomenal and we look forward to future operations to address this issue. We never have a problem putting those behind bars that want to bring their illegal activities to our area."
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of the federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
This case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Lakeland Police Department. The cases will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Stacie B. Harris, Joseph Swanson, Mark Bini, Jennifer Peresie and Josephine Thomas.
It is another case prosecuted as part of the Department of Justice’s "Project Safe Neighborhoods" program – a nationwide, gun–violence reduction strategy led by ATF. United States Attorney Robert E. O’Neill, along with Julie Torres, Special Agent in Charge, ATF, is coordinating the Project Safe Neighborhoods effort here in the Middle District of Florida in cooperation with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials.