Woonsocket man sentenced to serve two years in state prison for his role in an illegal firearm trafficking scheme following Urban Violent Crime Task Force investigation
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha, Providence Commissioner of Public Safety Steven Paré, and Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements, Jr., announced today that a Woonsocket man was sentenced in Providence County Superior Court to serve two years at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) for his role in an illegal firearms trafficking scheme following a joint investigation by the Urban Violent Crime Task Force.
Willie Love (age 33) entered a plea of nolo contendere to carrying a pistol without a license and conspiracy to sell a concealable weapon without proper paperwork.
At a hearing on October 21, 2022, before Superior Court Justice Kristin E. Rodgers the Court sentenced the defendant to eight years, with two years to serve at the ACI and a six-year suspended sentence with eight years of probation.
“There is no mystery regarding where violent crime is most likely to occur in Rhode Island, especially violent crime involving the use of illegal firearms, nor is there much mystery regarding what is driving it. Our ground zero is our urban core, where illegal guns are being used by criminals to settle scores or protect other criminal activity,” said Attorney General Neronha.
“To effectively address this threat to public safety, we must be able to proactively identify and target those who engage in such criminal activity, while recognizing that that activity – in many instances – crosses municipal boundaries,” continued Attorney General Neronha. “This multi-jurisdictional task force, comprised of both investigators and prosecutors, is having success identifying and apprehending violent offenders before they can harm others. I am grateful to all of the agencies involved for their partnership in this effort.”
Had the case proceeded to trial, the State was prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that in the months before his arrest, the defendant bought an illegal pistol from an individual involved in a multi-defendant firearm trafficking scheme previously targeted by the investigatory team in 2020.
The 2020 investigation led to the prosecution of four defendants -- Theodore Braxton, Ralph Gbaie, Amerlia Holmes, and Russell Dacruz. During that straw-purchasing investigation, the task force identified the defendant, who as a previously convicted felon is barred under federal law from purchasing a firearm, as having purchased a Taurus G2C 9mm semi-automatic pistol from Amerlia Holmes.
In the several weeks preceding his arrest, investigators identified the defendant in several social media posts that depicted him in possession of the pistol.
On November 12, 2021, investigators from the Providence and Pawtucket Police Departments deputized by the Office of the Attorney General, ATF, and the Woonsocket Police Department executed a search warrant at the defendant’s residence on Park Avenue in Woonsocket, where they seized the Taurus pistol along with a fully loaded 15-round magazine lying beside his bed.
“Illegal firearm distribution schemes continue to threaten our community, putting the lives of innocent victims at risk,” said Steven M. Paré, Providence Commissioner of Public Safety. “Targeting illegal firearms is a priority of law enforcement and this initiative will enhance our agencies’ ability to utilize data, technology, and intelligence to analyze, investigate and connect the players involved more efficiently. I commend the RI Attorney General’s Office, ATF, and Woonsocket Police Department for working together with the members of the Providence Police Department, notably Detective Theodore Michael, on the implementation of this initiative and investigation and prosecution of this case.”
“I commend the members of the Providence Police Department and members of the task force for their hard work during the investigation of this case,” said Providence Police Chief Colonel Hugh T. Clements, Jr. “Illegal firearms are certainly a focus of our investigatory efforts and has resulted in the removal of a significant amount of guns from our streets, reducing the risk that they pose to innocent victims within our community.”
“Straw purchasing firearms is not a victimless crime,” said ATF Boston Field Division Special Agent in Charge James M. Ferguson. “It is a serious danger to all of our communities. This arrest demonstrates the ATF’s commitment to working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to help stop the flow of illegal guns into our neighborhoods.”
Theodore Braxton, Ralph Gbaie, Amerlia Holmes, and Russell Dacruz were convicted for their roles in the straw purchasing scheme.
Detective Theodore Michael of the Providence Police Department; Detective Dennis Smith of the Pawtucket Police Department; Special Agents Christian Jardin and Meaghan Croke of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and Investigator William Dwyer, Assistant Attorney General Joseph McBurney, and Special Assistant Attorney General Alison Bittl of the Office of the Attorney General led the investigation and prosecution of the case, with assistance from the Woonsocket Police Department.
Urban Violent Crime Task Force
The cases were investigated under an initiative that began in 2021, by the Office of the Attorney General; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls Police Departments; and the Department of Corrections to proactively target violent crime and firearms trafficking in the greater Providence Area.
The Attorney General has deputized officers from law enforcement agencies in Providence, Pawtucket, and Central Falls to provide greater ability to investigate suspects across municipal jurisdictions. As part of this initiative, prosecutors, investigators, and analysts work together to gather data and intelligence, analyze the information to support investigations and prosecutions, and guide violent crime enforcement priorities. The partner agencies have prioritized information sharing and analysis across agencies through the use of a data analyst and platform – funded through a Department of Justice grant awarded to the Office of the Attorney General in 2020.
Recently, the Office of the Attorney General purchased a National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) machine, only one of two in the entire state, using asset forfeiture funds, that will allow for the capture and comparison of ballistic evidence to aid in solving and preventing violent crimes involving firearms.
Using these tools, the team can quickly draw connections between different crime scenes and weave together police reports and other records to help identify suspects and witnesses.