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Federal task force reports 128 gun, drug arrests in 16 days

Federal task force reports 128 gun, drug arrests in 16 days

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A federal task force created earlier this month aimed at combating skyrocketing gun violence has made 128 arrests and seized 22 illegal firearms in Buffalo and Rochester, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Friday.

The Violence Prevention and Elimination Response, or VIPER, task force has led to federal charges against 15 individuals, with another 21 cases being considered for federal prosecution, federal prosecutors said in a news release.

In the 16-day period from July 7 to Thursday, the task force – which in Buffalo includes federal agencies, Buffalo police, the Erie County Sheriff's Office and the county District Attorney's Office – has made 45 firearm-related arrests, 45 narcotics-related arrests and 38 violent felony arrests.

Officials announced the creation of the task force July 7 in Rochester and July 8 in Buffalo.

Separate statistics for each area were not available Friday.

The task force's work is initially slated to last 60 days and will include "targeted enforcement" operations against a "small number" of individuals, as well as a daily review of cases involving gun violence where prosecutors will decide whether to file state or federal charges, or both.

Shootings in Buffalo, as well as in cities across the country, have risen sharply over roughly the last 18 months.

The number of people shot in Buffalo over the first six months of this year was up 64%, compared to the average over the past decade. From Jan. 1 through June 30, Buffalo also saw more than double the average number of homicides over the last 10 years.

Read the full story from News Staff Reporter Aaron Besecker

One of the task force's arrests happened on Pomona Place in South Buffalo on Tuesday, in which a man was charged after police allegedly found a stolen handgun and an unregistered assault weapon.

The next day, a Buffalo man was charged with federal drug and gun crimes after the Sheriff's Office and Buffalo police conducted surveillance on the man's Rogers Avenue apartment. Officers later pulled the man's car over and found a blue shopping bag inside that allegedly contained 28 grams of suspected fentanyl, a loaded 9 mm handgun, ammunition, unidentified pills and a digital scale, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Police also searched the man's apartment and found a revolver, more ammunition and another digital scale.

Michael Johnson, 43, was charged with possession with intent to distribute fentanyl, possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking crimes and being a felon in possession of a firearm, prosecutors said. Johnson was convicted in Albany County in 2008 of third-degree attempted sale of a controlled substance, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story reported an incorrect number of total arrests.

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