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Federal prosecutors take aim at armed drug dealers selling to homeless

Federal prosecutors say they will not hesitate to throw the book at drug dealers caught with guns in Operation Rio Grande.  They say gun charges have a lot more teeth than many people would expect.

Officers arrested James Gama in December, and again in January selling small jars of spice.  Gama claimed he was able to sell three or four jars of spice per day, and Officer Jared Garcia says the profit margin on that much spice is very big.  “Those individual cigarettes are general two dollars per cigarette,” he says.

Prosecutors say Gama had a weapon both times, claiming he needed it to protect himself from being robbed.  Department of Public Safety Commissioner Keith Squires says spice already makes people more aggressive.  “Anyone who is carrying a firearm during the commission of drug trafficking escalates the potential for violence,” he says.

The drug charges alone could land Gama in prison for 20 years.  However, U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber says the really harsh penalties come from two counts of carrying a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.  Huber says, “The first time that someone is convicted of carrying a gun with their drugs, it’s a five-year minimum mandatory.  The second time someone is convicted of carrying a gun and dealing drugs, it’s 25 years on top of everything else.”  Those sentences would run consecutively, so, Gama is facing a mandatory minimum of 30 years in federal prison.

Huber says he’s given authority to use federal resources to tackle local issues, and he wants to slow down the rising number violent crimes.  He can remember witnesses, first hand, how bad the drug problem is in Pioneer Park when he was stuck in traffic on 300 West.  “It was an open-air drug market.  The United States Attorney sat in his car in traffic and watched multiple drug deals happen before my very eyes,” he says.