A man who allegedly became a part of the MS-13 street gang at as young as 10 years old pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to four counts relating to illegal firearms activity.
Jose Vazquez Correa pleaded guilty to two counts of dealing firearms without a license and two counts of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. The indictment alleged he was involved with illegally possessing and dealing at least 10 specific guns between August and November 2017. He was also accused of — but did not plead to — conspiracy and distribution charges related to the movement of cocaine hydrochloride, crack and methamphetamine.
In making an argument for a lighter sentence, defense attorney Ron Harrison said Vazquez Correa came from a Mexican neighborhood beset by narcotics, gangs and violence, and that an early age, his parents gained entry to the United States because of the threat of violence against them. However, Vazquez Correa didn’t go with them, but instead to his aunt’s residence, where he was cared for along with 14 other children.
Harrison said that by the age of five, he was associating with gang members for support. At 9 years old, he spent days in the desert to cross into the country. However, things got off-track again and he was only able to complete the 6th grade, and went back to the streets, where he began picking up his first serious criminal charges. That led to five years in a youth detention center.
Harrison said that’s not a justification, just an explanation of why Vazquez Correa was where he was presently, at 22 years old. He said Vazquez Correa got his GED in the YDC, and took classes at the local technical college in order to develop work skills.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Katelyn Semales said that while the government is sympathetic with Vazquez Correa’s childhood, he was associated with MS-13 since he was 10 years old and developed a significant criminal record since 12 years old. Also, that the firearms charges in this case involved dealings with MS-13 gang members and thereby facilitating gang activity.
U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood said that taking into account his criminal history, she was sentencing him to four years and seven months in prison. Thereafter, he’s to be turned over to immigration authorities for deportation.
In a sentencing in an unrelated matter, former Marine Austin Allen Cross received seven months in federal prison for his part in the theft of thousands of rounds of ammunition and more than 50 pounds of explosives from Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
Cross’ attorney, Kevin Gough, made the argument for zero prison time — he said Cross’ offenses were five years ago, and moreover, the conspiracy was underway before he got to Kings Bay and was going on after he left. Plus, Gough said, he demonstrated through the way he’s lived his life since that point that he wasn’t any kind of threat to the community who deserved prison time.
The most significant item in Cross’ favor was the U.S. Attorney’s Office classifying his cooperation with the investigation as very significant, which is a four on a scale of five. Gough said that in 26 years of work in federal court, he never had a client receive that designation. Semales said the information Cross provided led to the indictment of two other defendants involved in Kings Bay munitions theft.
Semales later noted, however, the fact Cross helped steal these munitions while serving as a Marine, and put the community at risk — a search at the reported stash house occurred after evacuating the neighboring residences — should be aggravating circumstances.
Wood’s sentencing of Cross to seven months in prison was below the low-end of the sentencing guidelines, which was 13 months. He’s also to serve three years supervised release and — jointly and severally with the other defendants in the matter — pay back the Department of the Navy for $22,825.37. Once released from prison, Cross is to make monthly payments of $150.
He was allowed an extended release of 60 days before reporting to prison, as Gough said he’s working on a Rule 35 motion for reduced sentence based on substantial assistance, for which he needs time for the other defendants’ cases to resolve.
Also pleading guilty Wednesday were two men accused of playing parts in a 18-person criminal drug conspiracy, with the lead dealer allegedly Robert Johnson of Jacksonville, Fla.
Jermaine Tyrone Fuller pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and distributing 500 grams or more of cocaine and 5 grams or more of methamphetamine. While that plea carries with it a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, the amounts are lesser amounts than what he was charged with, which was 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 50 grams or more of meth.
Scott Sapp, an officer with the Brunswick Police Department assigned to an FBI violent gang task force, testified they had two wire taps on Fuller, along with wire taps on his father and co-defendant, Michael Arthur Nixon. Sapp said that through conversations between Fuller and Johnson, and Fuller and Nixon, he conspired to distribute at least 3.39 kilos of cocaine.
Malik Williams pleaded guilty to to the conspiracy charge, but without the weights noted in Fuller’s charge. For that, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and at least three years supervised release.
Sapp confirmed allegations made by Mateo that the FBI had a wire tap on Nixon’s phone, and through that they became aware of Williams’ involvement, because of conversations they had about moving cocaine. Sapp said they have evidence showing Williams was involved at least with specifically 95 grams of cocaine and a number of transactions of unknown quantities.
He noted that Williams had videos and photos on social media of himself with large amounts of cash, along with marijuana, digital scales, various mobile phones and high-powered firearms.