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Five charged with trafficking hundreds of guns from Georgia to California black market

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Five people were charged Thursday with conspiring to traffic more than 500 guns into California from Georgia to sell them on the black market, federal prosecutors said.

Jerrell Lawson, 31, and Aisha Hoggatt, 29, both of Sacramento; Malek Williams, 28, of Atlanta; Terrence Phillips, 39, of Union City; and James Gordley, 32, of Modesto were arrested March 11. They were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to unlawfully deal in firearms and unlawful dealing in firearms, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California.

In addition, Lawson, Hoggatt, Williams and Phillips were charged with transferring a firearm to an out-of-state resident and illegally mailing a firearm. Lawson also faces a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

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The indictment comes after investigators traced a firearm that had been used in a Sacramento shooting back to a sale by a federally licensed gun dealer in Georgia.

About 24,000 Californians the attorney general’s office knows about possess guns and legally shouldn’t, but it can’t recruit enough officers to make a dent in the list, columnist George Skelton writes.

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“A subsequent sale of the firearm led to Lawson’s organization,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a release.

According to the complaint, Lawson and the others purchased more than 500 firearms, totaling over $162,000 in purchases, between November 2019 and October 2021. Lawson allegedly used the internet to broker purchases in Georgia, where Williams, who had a concealed carry license, would pick up the guns and mail them to locations in California, prosecutors said.

“Some of the firearms went to individuals that are prohibited from possessing firearms due to prior felony convictions,” the attorney’s office said.

Hoggatt allegedly assisted in coordinating the purchases, mailings and distribution, while Phillips and Gordley distributed the guns in California, prosecutors said.

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Investigators said they intercepted packages en route to Lawson and others that contained guns and ammunition as well as other weapons including knives and brass knuckles.

The defendants face maximum sentences of five years in prison for each count of conspiracy and unlawful dealing in firearms. Lawson, Hoggatt, Williams and Phillips also face prison sentences of up to five years for each count of transferring a firearm to an out-of-state resident and illegally mailing a firearm. In addition, Lawson could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison for the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

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