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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecutes 57 Marion County cases involving firearms over four-year period

The United States Attorney’s Office has announced the results of a four-year gun violence reduction initiative between local, state, and federal law enforcement in Marion County.

Since July 2018, the Ocala Division of the United States Attorney’s Office has partnered with the Ocala Police Department, Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Fifth Judicial Circuit Office of the State Attorney, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in a joint effort to federally prosecute defendants who illegally possess firearms and ammunition in the Marion County area.

Between July 2018 and December 2022, the Ocala division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecuted a total of 57 gun-related cases involving 60 defendants. A majority of the cases were adopted from the state system with the support of the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, while others were handled jointly between state and federal investigators.

As of December 31, 2022, 49 of the 60 defendants have been sentenced in federal court to a combined 388 years in federal prison.

“Keeping our neighborhoods safe from gun violence is a shared responsibility that requires local law enforcement to collaborate with state and federal authorities,” stated Ocala Police Chief Mike Balken. “I am extremely proud of the incredible work these partners are doing to hold violent criminals accountable for their actions. The efforts of this unified partnership should be celebrated as it has been relentless in the pursuit of justice and has made tremendous strides to ensure that citizens feel safe in their community.”

In the City of Ocala, Balken stated that a total of 483 firearms were recovered in 2021, and 37 of those firearms had been reported stolen. In 2022, OPD officers recovered 461 firearms in the city, which included 33 that were reported stolen.

OPD 34 guns off street in January 2022 updated
A photo showing some of the firearms that Ocala police officers recovered in January 2022 (Photo: Ocala Police Department)

“In a world where criminal activity and violent gun crimes are at the forefront of citizen concerns, I am proud to live here in Marion County,” stated Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods. “In this county, we have joined forces on a federal, state, and local level to fight against this.”

Sheriff Woods added, “We support, protect and defend the Constitution and have a great appreciation for those lawful gun owners that simply wish to live peaceably. But, we will come together bringing all of our available resources to maintain that peace when the violent, evil person tries to disrupt that. We cannot accomplish this on our own. It takes our citizen’s support and the cohesive working relationship with our fellow law enforcement agencies to keep Marion County one of the safest places to live, work, and play.”

The initiative in Marion County is part of the larger Project Safe Neighborhoods program, which brings together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun-related violence in an effort to make neighborhoods safer for everyone.