SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) Violent crime in Utah rose in 2017 according to new data released by the Department of Justice.
Violent crime was up around 13 percent last year. For U.S. Attorney John Huber, it literally hit close to home.
"How much should we have to tolerate? Why should the US Attorney have to tolerate a gang member shooting a 17-year-old and a state employee a block from my home in broad daylight," Huber asked Thursday.
After crime rates hit historic lows for more than two decades, violent crime is way up in Utah. Huber believes federal, state and local agencies are gaining ground.
Huber filed 144 felony cases involving gang members last year. Two hundred and four federal cases were filed involving felons with guns; that represents the highest rate recorded. Forty-one robbery cases were indicted, including 29 bank robberies.
On track with previous years, 41 indictments were returned in child exploitation cases. Three hundred cases were filed charging illegal re-entry into the United States.
"These numbers show us there is a void out there for justice and we are trying to fill that void," Huber said.
Huber said his office has a 90 percent conviction rate.
Transitioning into 2018, the U.S. Attorney's Office said they're focused on enhancing and expanding Utah Project Safe Neighborhoods, an initiative targeting violations of federal firearms laws, to include other areas of violent crime such as gang activity, drug distribution, organized crime, domestic violence and robberies.
In a press release, the U.S. Attorney's Office highlighted the fpllowing violent crime cases:
- Operation Rio Grande case - US v Jose Rodriguez, aka King Kong: A grand jury returned a six-count indictment in December charging Jose Rodriguez, aka King Kong, with drug and firearms violations. The two incidents that make up the indictment come from investigations done by Salt Lake City police officers working as a part of Operation Rio Grande. Rodriguez is charged with distribution of heroin, distribution of cocaine base, carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime and felon in possession of a firearm for the first incident in late September. He also faces distribution of heroin and felon in possession of a firearm in connection with an October incident. Rodriguez, age 35, a Mexican national living in Salt Lake City, faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each of the drug distribution counts and up to 10 years for each of the felon in possession counts. Carrying a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking offense has a mandatory five-year sentence which would run consecutive to any other sentence imposed. Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court. A five-day jury trial has been set for March 5, 2018, before U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby. Rodriguez, who has entered not guilty pleas to the charges, will remain in custody pending the resolution of this case. U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner found him to be a danger to the community and a risk of non-appearance at a detention hearing.
- 112-month sentence for serial bank robber: Bret Michael Edmunds, age 41, of Salt Lake City, was charged with seven counts of bank robbery in an indictment returned May 3, 2017. As a part of a plea agreement in October 207, he admitted to a March 28, 2017, robbery of Zions Bank in Draper and an April 3, 2017, robbery of Utah First Credit Union in Provo. In both cases, Edmunds told the teller he had a gun. Edmunds is serving 112 months in federal prison for the convictions. He was ordered to pay $8,977 in restitution to the victim banks.
- Criminal career spanning a decade: Jonathan Fernando Chavez, age 31, of Logan, Utah, was sentenced to 77 months in federal prison Nov. 9, 2017, after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition following a felony conviction. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued the sentence. Chavez was charged with felon in possession of a firearm and associated ammunition and possession of a sawed off shotgun in April 2017. In a sentencing memorandum, a federal prosecutor told the Court that Chavez' criminal career - which spans more than a decade - includes a drug charges, escape from custody, and aggravated burglary. "The defendant's criminal history score does not tell everything about his troubling characteristics, particularly his gang affiliation," the prosecutor told the Court. "An examination of the defendant's criminal history suggests that the only apparent periods of non-criminality in the life of the defendant occur, for the most part, when he is in custody. The defendant's criminal history and characteristics are as disturbing as they are diverse," the prosecutor wrote in the memorandum.
- Assault on a federal officer: Jarvis Charlie Cuch, age 28, of Ft. Duchesne, will be sentenced in February after pleading guilty in December to assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm after a felony conviction in U.S. District Court Monday afternoon. The plea agreement includes a stipulated 12-year sentence, subject to the Court's approval. As a part of stipulated facts included in the plea agreement, Cuch admitted that on Dec. 18, 2016, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police officers working in Ft. Duchesne attempted to initiate a traffic stop on a vehicle he was driving. Cuch fled from the BIA officers. As the officers continued their pursuit, Cuch admitted he reached out of the vehicle window and fired two rounds from a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, according to the plea agreement. The pursuit went from Ft. Duchesne through Vernal City. Vernal City police officers and Uintah County Sheriff's Office deputies assisted the BIA in apprehending Cuch after his tires were spiked and his car came to a stop in Vernal. Cuch was on escape status with federal authorities when the crimes occurred. Cuch was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in March 2017.
- 27 ½ years in prison, lifetime supervision: Donald Ray Fritcher, age 36, of Salt Lake City, is serving 27 ½ years in federal prison after pleading guilty to distribution of child pornography. He was sentenced in July 2017. Fritcher will be on supervised release for life when he finishes his federal prison sentence. Fritcher admitted that between about July 1, 2015, and April 2016, he shared, through a file sharing program, images and videos of child pornography. These images included depictions of prepubescent and minor children posing in various stages of undress and in sexually explicit poses. He further stipulated that the images also depicted the sexual abuse of minor children. Fritcher had more than 600 images and videos in his possession. Included in the pictures Fritcher took were images of two minor victims. Fritcher, a registered sex offender in Utah, has two previous state convictions for attempted sex abuse of a child. According to the indictment filed in the case, the pictures of the two minors were taken after his convictions in state court.
- Federal authorities arrested Fritcher in Utah in May 2016. His arrest followed an investigation conducted by special agents of Homeland Security Investigations in Salt Lake City and Philadelphia working in collaboration with an investigator with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The special agents of Homeland Security Investigations in Utah are members of the Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the FBI's Child Exploitation Task Force.
- Second case from Dr. Ward investigation: Robert Edwin Francis, age 41, of Lehi, Utah, will serve 144 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to receipt of child pornography. U.S. District Judge Dee Benson imposed the sentence Jan. 22, 2018. Francis was charged with production, receipt, and possession of child pornography in an indictment returned in August 2017. Francis admitted he engaged in sexually explicit conduct involving children via an on-line social network and that he possessed at least 150 but fewer than 300 images of child pornography.
- Change of plea hearing set in Dr. Ward case: A change of plea hearing for Dr. Nathan Clark Ward has been scheduled for March 5, 2018, at 3 p.m. before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson.
- Four deportations - four DUIs: Oscar Antonio Lara-Garcia was charged in September 2017 with illegal re-entry of a previously deported alien. (There are 14 versions of his name - also known as -- on his plea agreement document.) Lara-Garcia has been removed from the United States four times. He has four DUI convictions and two prior possession of controlled substances convictions. Lara-Garcia pleaded guilty to illegally re-entering the country in November 2017. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 5, 2018.
- Firearms and drug distribution: Mario Roman-Cornello was charged with illegal re-entry, alien in possession of a firearm, possession of an unregistered sawed off shotgun, and possession with intent to distribute more than 100 grams of heroin in September 2017. He was selling heroin and had agreed to facilitate the sale of the sawed off shotgun and possibly other firearms at the time of his arrest. He pleaded guilty in January to possessing a firearm while illegally present in the country and possession of heroin with intent to distribute. Roman-Cornello faces a minimum mandatory five years in prison with a maximum of 40 years when he is sentenced in March.
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