Alleged Convicted Felon and Recruited Straw Purchasers of Firearms Charged with Lying to Buy Firearms
HOUSTON – A seven-month investigation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has resulted in the return of a nine-count indictment charging the alleged ring leader and two of his recruits with conspiracy to lie to buy firearms and aiding and abetting the unlawful purchase of 15 firearms, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today along with ATF Special Agent in Charge J. Dewey Webb. The alleged leader of the group, William Simmons, an alleged convicted felon who is prohibited by law from purchasing firearms, is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Simmons, 32, along with alleged straw purchasers, Austin Cress, 28, and Marissa Jones, 22, all of Houston, were arrested on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, by ATF special agents with warrants which issued following the return of a sealed indictment on Aug. 11, 2011. Cress made his initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson the same day, has been ordered released on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond and is set for arraignment on Monday, Aug. 22. Simmons and Jones made their initial appearance before Judge Johnson yesterday and were ordered to remain in custody pending a detention hearing on Monday.
With the arrest of the defendants, the indictment is now unsealed. According to allegations in the indictment, Simmons recruited straw purchasers, including Cress and Jones, and organized the purchases made by Cress and Jones at various federally licensed firearms stores between November 2009 and August 2010. Cress and Jones allegedly lied when they purchased a total of 15 firearms by claiming they were the actual purchasers of the firearm. The serial numbers of the purchased firearms, according to the indictment, were obliterated and in some instances these altered firearms where being shipped out of state as well as out of the country.
Simmons is charged along with Cress in five substantive counts of aiding and abetting one another to lie to buy a total of ten pistols between December 2009 and May 2010 including four .45 caliber pistols, four 9 mm pistols, one .40 caliber pistol and one .380 caliber pistol. Simmons and Jones are charged with two additional substantive counts of aiding and abetting the lying to buy a total of five 9 mm pistols on two separate occasions in June and August 2010. A conviction for the conspiracy charge or any of the substantive offenses carries a maximum statutory punishment of five years in prison without parole and a $250,000 fine.
Simmons, who has allegedly been previously convicted of a felony offense and is prohibited by law from possessing firearms, is also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Paulson is prosecuting the case.