Urban Violent Crime Initiative targets straw purchasing of firearms
Pair charged with multiple felony counts; Pawtucket man sentenced to state prison in separate straw purchasing cases
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, Central Falls Police Chief Anthony Roberson, and Pawtucket Acting Public Safety Director, Chief Tina Goncalves announced that two individuals have been charged with multiple felony counts and a Pawtucket man was sentenced to state prison in separate cases stemming from joint investigations into illegal firearms trafficking and violent crime in the greater Providence area.
Danasia Machado (age 24, 62-2022-04559) of Central Falls was arraigned on May 17, 2022, in Sixth Division District Court and charged with five counts of straw purchasing of a firearm, two counts of illegal sale of a concealable weapon, and one count of conspiracy to straw purchase a firearm.
Marcos Castellanos (age 20, 62-2022-04575) of Sioux City, IA, was arraigned on May 18, 2022, in Sixth Division District Court and charged with two counts of possession of a pistol without a license, two counts of alteration of identifying marks on a firearm, two counts of solicitation to deliver a firearm without the proper paperwork, and conspiracy to straw purchase a firearm. The defendant is currently serving a one-year sentence at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) following a February 2022 conviction for carrying a pistol without a license.
Brian Watson (age 34, P2-2021-3462AG) of Pawtucket entered a plea of guilty to possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, possession of a ghost gun, possession of a pistol without a license, conspiracy to sell concealable weapons without proper paperwork, selling concealable weapons without proper paperwork, and soliciting another to sell a concealable weapon without proper paperwork. At a hearing on June 6, 2022, before Superior Court Justice Robert D. Krause, the Court sentenced the defendant to 15 years with five years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions and a 10-year suspended sentence with 15 years of probation.
“This Office, along with our partners in law enforcement have made a concerted effort to target the individuals and criminal conduct that are driving violent crime in the greater Providence area,” said Attorney General Neronha. “Straw purchases of firearms are a major source of illegal firearms in Rhode Island and these two cases represent the type of proactive law enforcement that works to prevent violent crime. I am grateful to the continued partnership of the agencies involved in our initiative, especially the Pawtucket and Central Falls police departments, as well as ATF in these cases.”
As alleged in court documents, in December 2021, investigators from the Central Falls Police Department and the Office of the Attorney General initiated an investigation into allegations that Marcos Castellanos and Danasia Machado were involved in a scheme to straw purchase firearms.
The straw purchase of a firearm is a crime where an individual buys a firearm on behalf of another to avoid federal and state background checks, which are designed to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals who are precluded by law from buying them themselves.
Marcos Castellanos is prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing a firearm because of a pending burglary charge he is facing in Iowa.
It is alleged that from November 2021 to February 2022, the defendants executed a straw purchasing scheme where Marcos Castellanos directed Danasia Machado to buy firearms on his behalf, and then sell them to unidentified buyers, which continued while he was incarcerated at the ACI.
During this time, Danasia Machado is alleged to have straw purchased two firearms, a Smith & Wesson .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun and a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm semi-automatic handgun. She is also alleged to have completed applications to purchase three additional firearms.
The defendants’ cases remain pending in Sixth Division District Court.
“The Central Falls Police Department continues to work with our federal, state, and local partners to combat straw purchases,” said Colonel Anthony Roberson, Chief of the Central Falls Police Department. “In a continued effort to prevent these firearms from reaching the hands of criminals, the Central Falls Police Department collaborates with a variety of stakeholders in an effort to keep our residents safe. The reduction of violent crime in our communities continues to be the mission.”
Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that between May 2020, and April 2021, Brian Watson and a co-defendant, Zaira Lozada executed a straw purchasing scheme where Lozada straw purchased multiple firearms that both Watson and Lozada sold to five individuals.
Brian Watson is prohibited by law from purchasing or possessing a firearm because of a prior conviction for domestic simple assault in 2017.
Following a months-long investigation by the Pawtucket Police Department with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Office of the Attorney General, on April 27, 2021, investigators executed a search warrant at an apartment the defendants shared on Broadway in Pawtucket where they seized multiple illegal firearms, including: a Polymer80 9mm semi-automatic ghost gun with a 30-round large-capacity magazine; a Radical Firearms RF-15 5.56mm pistol with three magazines; a Ruger LCP .380 semi-automatic pistol with one magazine; a Springfield Armory XD45 .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol with two magazines; 275 rounds of various types of ammunition and firearms parts; and methamphetamine.
During the investigation, investigators developed evidence from phone calls between the defendants where they referred to the straw purchased firearms as “toys.”
Investigators were also able to confirm that the defendants traveled with some of the guns to a home in Glocester and fired them.
The case against Zaira Lozada remains pending in Providence County Superior Court.
Detective Dennis Smith of the Pawtucket Police Department, deputized by the Office of the Attorney General; Special Agent Justin Delaney of the ATF; and Investigator Eric Yankee and Assistant Attorney General Joseph J. McBurney of the Office of the Attorney General led the investigation and prosecution of the case.
“The collaboration between the Pawtucket Police Department and the Attorney General’s Office has allowed the police department to take a no tolerance stance on the illegal sale, distribution, and use of firearms on the streets of our community,” said Pawtucket Acting Public Safety Director, Chief Tina Goncalves. “The Pawtucket Police Department and the members of the Attorney General’s Task Force will continue to work in collaboration to ensure the safety of our residents.”
“Firearms trafficking continues to be a top priority for ATF and our law enforcement partners,” said James M. Ferguson, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Boston Field Division. “ATF is committed to identifying and disrupting the sources of illegal firearms which jeopardize the safety of our communities.”
Urban Violent Crime Initiative
The cases stem from an initiative, that began in 2021, by the Office of the Attorney General; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls Police Departments; and the Department of Corrections to proactively target violent crime and firearms trafficking in the greater Providence Area.
The Attorney General has deputized officers from law enforcement agencies in Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls to provide greater ability to investigate suspects across municipal jurisdictions. As part of this initiative, prosecutors, investigators, and analysts work together to gather data and intelligence, analyze the information to support investigations and prosecutions, and guide violent crime enforcement priorities. The partner agencies have prioritized information sharing and analysis across agencies through the use of a data analyst and platform – funded through a Department of Justice grant awarded to the Office of the Attorney General in 2020.
Recently, the Office of the Attorney General purchased a National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) machine, only one of two in the entire state, using asset forfeiture funds, that will allow for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms.
Using these tools, the team can quickly draw connections between different crime scenes and weave together police reports and other records to help identify suspects and witnesses.