ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – “Gun crime equals federal time, no parole.” That’s the message from Albuquerque’s FBI office, which announced a new digital billboard campaign amid a series of recent high-profile crimes.
The new message will be displayed on roadside billboards throughout the city over the next 12 weeks. Announcing the initiative Wednesday morning, Albuquerque’s FBI Special Agent-In-Charge Raul Bujanda said the billboard campaign also serves as “a promise.”
“It’s not a slogan, it’s a promise,” Bujanda said. “We want to increase the public’s awareness that the FBI, special agents, intelligence analysts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our many partners that are standing with me today and elsewhere are ready and willing to prosecute allegations and criminal acts that are happening on a daily basis, on the federal platform.”
Bujanda emphasized Wednesday that federal prosecution means “higher conviction rates, tougher sentences” and “no early release.” Since 2017, federal officials say at least 500 cases have been taking out of state courts to be prosecuted in federal courts.
“I think a lot of people don’t see this, or maybe they’re not aware,” Bujanda said. “So that’s what we want to emphasize today.”
Local federal officials say their investigators and prosecutors will continue to focus on taking cases involving specific violent crimes, including felons in possession of firearms or ammo, violating the Hobbs Act (which covers robbery of chains and stores in multiple states,) car jacking, kidnapping, bank robberies and “many many more things.” “If we can make a federal connection, we’re going to make it,” Bujanda said.
However, New Mexico’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Fred Federici said Wednesday he doesn’t anticipate the number of federally prosecuted cases will increase beyond current levels with the debut of the strongly worded billboards. He called Wednesday’s announcement a “campaign” about “messaging.”
“Making sure that‒ not the folks that are the law abiding citizens out there, but that hopefully people who are inclined to be on our streets committing crimes get the message,” Federici said. “That’s the point of this billboard campaign, in particular, is to try to augment what’s already happening with the violent crime taskforce by messaging this to the people [criminals] that need to hear this message.”
Alongside the feds, leaders from Albuquerque Police, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office and the New Mexico Department of Public Safety joined Wednesday’s news conference. The announcement was supposed to happen last Friday but was postponed after a New Mexico State Police officer was shot near Sedillo. That shooting was highlighted as a reason for the recent initiative.
“It kind of emphasizes the irony of doing a billboard presentation on violent crime that gets interrupted by violent crime,” Bujanda said. Despite drawing that connection between the billboard campaign and last Friday’s NMSP shooting, the suspect, Caleb Elledge, so far is only facing state charges.
Elledge, a previously convicted felon, is accused of aggravated battery on a peace officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm among other charges for last week’s shooting. When asked Wednesday if Elledge would face federal charges for the shooting, U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Fred Federici said he “would not comment on any pending cases.”
“If want to find yourself staring down the barrel of a federal indictment, then commit just one of the federal crimes that [we] just listed,” Federici said. “You will find yourself with a one way ticket to federal court.”
Federal officials outlined some of the potential penalties for targeted crimes. Felons in possession of a firearm can face up to 10 years in federal prison. Depending on criminal history, some offenders could face 15 years in federal prison for the same underlying crime. Carrying a gun during a violent crime or a drug crime carries a minimum of five years in a federal prison on top of potential additional penalties for the underlying crime. Brandishing a firearm in a violent crime or drug crime carries a minimum sentence of seven years in federal prison.
“If you are so foolish as to decide to discharge a firearm during such a crime, it’s a minimum of ten years that you might to get spend in federal prison on top of the penalty that you will get for the underlying crime,” Federici said. “Those for whom the message on this billboard is intended should also be on notice that in the last few years we have developed the strongest working relationship that I know of in my 27 years of being a federal prosecutor in New Mexico.”