John Huber, the U.S. attorney for Utah, isn’t kidding around — drug dealers carrying firearms are going to be locked up for a long time.
In a news conference Monday afternoon, Huber, along with Keith Squires, the commissioner for the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS), highlighted cases of alleged local drug trafficking in which dealers were armed.
Rather than charge them in state court, which would yield shorter prison terms, the allegations were presented to a federal grand jury that handed up indictments. If convicted, they face five-year minimum mandatory sentences in prison for the firearm offense alone. A second firearm offense while selling drugs would bring a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence, above and beyond the penalty for trafficking.
“This is not a revolving door,” Huber said. “Nothing is more volatile than a drug trafficker carrying a firearm.”
Huber and Squires pointed to four alleged traffickers indicted for drug dealing while carrying guns. The arrests are part of the continuing Operation Rio Grande that seeks to crack down on drug dealing and violence around The Road Home shelter downtown.
One of the men indicted is James Musa Gama, 39, Salt Lake City, who was arrested in Pioneer Park on Dec. 12, 2017. Gama allegedly sold a $40 “jar” of spice to a DPS undercover agent. During a search, a loaded handgun was found in Gama’s waistband, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. Agents also recovered five additional small jars of a substance that later was identified as FUM-AMB, a Schedule 1 synthetic cannabinoid (spice).
According to the complaint, Gama told agents he had been selling three or four jars of spice per day. He said he bought the gun for $300 for protection.
About six weeks later, agents encountered Gama again and allegedly bought four more jars containing suspected spice, according to Huber. During a subsequent search, agents allegedly found another handgun in Gama’s possession.
If found guilty, Gama could face decades in prison.
“When we see an opportunity to use federal authority and a federal grand jury, we will use them,” Huber said. “My commitment is to combat violent crime.”
Three other alleged drug traffickers who have been indicted by the federal grand jury were held up for examples:
• A 35-year-old Salt Lake City man was charged on a six-count indictment for the alleged distribution of heroin and cocaine while in the possession of a firearm in October.
• A 50-year-old Ogden man was indicted for alleged possession of heroin with intent to distribute, possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in September. He also was charged with possession of a firearm by a restricted person (felon) that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, and possession of two semi-automatic handguns associated with the drug charges.
• A 33-year-old Salt Lake City man was indicted for alleged possession of heroin with intent to distribute while in the possession of a firearm on Jan. 18. He, too, is restricted from carrying firearms from a previous felony.
A small proportion of the population is responsible for violent crime, Squires said. “Anytime we can remove them from the equation, it’s a plus for society.”