ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – “Gun Crime = Federal Time. No Parole:” the message blasted on billboards and even hammered home by the Director of the FBI in his visit to New Mexico. If a convicted criminal is caught with a gun, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office say the felon will face federal prison time.  

“So what we’re looking at is where’s the biggest punishment right?” Albuquerque FBI Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda said. “We’re looking at what a person committed. People want to see these individuals pay for the crimes that they have committed and we want them to pay for these crimes as well.”

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Bujanda took a number of firearms out of evidence to show what convicted felons had been caught with during the last couple of months, including A-Ks, A-Rs, and ghost guns that had scopes and silencers, among other modifications. “These are the types of weapons they used in Uvalde. They used them in Illinois. Name the place,” he said.

“These are weapons of war, right; and the individuals that are possessing these should obviously never should have had them to begin with,” Bujanda said. “But the intent behind this is to cause serious damage to individuals and property.” The firearms he referred to were confiscated by the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force (VCTF).

Bujanda said the VCTF is very active. Created in 2019, it is made up of 40 members from the FBI, Albuquerque Police Department, New Mexico State Police, and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office. Bujanda explained they are both proactive and reactive, “Most of these are – we’re targeting, we’re working together to try to find these individuals and some of these others are folks that we stumbled onto.”

“These individuals are not just committing the one crime that one day. They’ve been terrorizing their communities for a long period of time,” Bujanda added. “They’ve done many other things and continue to do these things and if we don’t take them off the streets, then who will?” 

“We will use anything in that big codebook to go after those who are killing people and shooting people in our community,” U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Alexander Uballez explained. “Felon in possession is our most useful tool, frequently.”

The U.S. Attorney can issue the charge as long as the suspect has a felony record and police caught them with a gun on them or in their home or car. 

Caleb Elledge had an active arrest warrant and six convictions on his record when New Mexico State Police arrested him in February 2022. He was accused of speeding off when NMSP Officer Jeremy Vaughn knocked on his car window, trying to speak with him. Vaughn pursued Elledge for seven miles before their vehicles crashed. Then, a shootout ensued and Vaughn was hit. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office initially charged Elledge with six felonies. But the state paused the case in August, so the feds could take over, or adopt it.  

“This adoption program and this relationship has [sic] really expanded the number of cases in this office that were traditionally state cases,” Uballez explained. “We can’t take over nor should we for the district attorney.” But, he said, the Office is willing to throw the weight of a federal prison sentence at a repeat offender. If convicted, they are facing up to 15 years – more than twice as much time as the state law carries, there is no parole and the sentence is served outside of New Mexico. 

“Felon in possession is a fairly easy charge to prove versus most victim crimes that involve a lot of eyewitness testimony and memory,” Uballez said. “If there’s problems with securing a victim or there’s problems with evidence on a broader case, whatever it looks like on the state side, our case is much cleaner often when we charge the 922 [felon in possession].”

So who decides if the feds are adopting the case? There’s a discussion every day between prosecutors from the Bernalillo County DA’s Office and Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Uballez said they review every single state felony complaint to make that determination. “So they have good handles on what’s the – both the law in the state – so what the charges are, what the penalties are, as well as the likelihood of conviction, the likelihood of a sentence, what a realistic plea or sentence would look like in a state case,” he explained. “And of course, they compare it to what they know here in the federal system.”

KRQE asked for the total number of adopted Bernalillo County cases in 2022. The U.S. Attorney’s Office counted at least 31. 

As was the case with Jaclyn Williams, the felon does not even need to be accused of committing a violent crime. Albuquerque Police caught up to Williams outside the Cottonwood Mall after officers believed she had just shoplifted from two stores. Williams ran from the police into another store. An APD officer discharged his bean bag shotgun, getting her into custody. But right before Williams was arrested, police said she threw a handgun down an aisle. The feds adopted her case about a week after the state issued charges. 

Read Jaclyn Williams’s Federal Charges Below:

While holding that scene, a responding APD officer was approached by an upset store employee. She told him this situation is why her daughter told her to move. 

“It’s a safer bet at this point,” the officer responded. “I’m not gonna lie to you. Albuquerque’s insanely dangerous and it’s getting worse.” There was no consoling her. He blamed career criminals, like Williams. “Unfortunately no matter how many times we lock bad people up, they keep getting out, keep coming back.” 

So KRQE asked the FBI if putting Williams and other convicted felons caught with guns into the federal system will curb the city’s violence. Bujanda responded, “There’s some data out that is kind of showing that trend, but I think it’s one of those that I’ll sit down with all the chiefs and sheriffs and all the federal partners as well and decide, is it working? And if it’s working, then obviously continue it or maybe we’ll make some adjustments and changes along the way that make sure that we’re having the biggest impact.” 

The U.S. Attorney said violence intervention is also needed. Beyond the daily review of felony complaints, he said a group of 60 in local, state and federal law enforcement meets weekly to discuss each shooting and homicide. As a result, his office re-started the Project Safe Neighborhood program with help from the city of Albuquerque. It involves connecting with victims of violence to keep them safe and make sure they are not the next offender using a firearm on Albuquerque’s streets.

A state case is not dismissed when the feds adopt the case. It can be a double whammy for felons caught with guns because they can still face state charges for the crimes of committing while they had the gun.