Violent crime task force investigation charges Woonsocket man for role in illegal firearm trafficking scheme

Published on Wednesday, November 17, 2021

In latest case, new multi-jurisdictional initiative uses intelligence analysis, cutting across local boundaries to reduce violent crime and strengthen community safety

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced that a Woonsocket man was arraigned on Friday in Sixth Division District Court for his role in an illegal firearms trafficking scheme following a joint investigation by the Office of the Attorney General, the Providence Police Department, the Pawtucket Police Department, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), with assistance from the Woonsocket Police Department.

Latest arrest in a broader strategy to address violent crime

Willie Love (age 30) was charged with one count of possession of a pistol without a license. As alleged in court documents, Love bought an illegal pistol from an individual involved in a multi-defendant firearm straw purchasing scheme targeted by the investigatory team in 2020.

Love’s arrest and prosecution is the latest result of an initiative by the Office of the Attorney General, ATF, 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.

As part of the initiative, prosecutors, investigators and analysts work together as a team to gather data and intelligence, analyze the information to support investigations and prosecutions, and guide violent crime enforcement priorities. 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.

The task force has also prioritized information sharing and analysis across those 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.  Using this platform, the team can quickly draw connections between different crime scenes and weave together police reports and other records to help identify suspects and witnesses.

“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, often equipped with high-capacity magazines, 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, formed some months ago and comprised of both investigators and prosecutors, is already having success identifying and apprehending violent offenders before they can harm others. I anticipate further success going forward and am grateful to all of the agencies involved for their partnership in this effort.”

One of the Attorney General’s top priorities through this initiative is to identify and remove barriers to departments getting crucial leads in a timely manner. Accordingly, the Office is dedicating additional resources from forfeiture proceeds to purchase an acquisition machine for use with the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN).

The machine allows for the digital comparison of spent ammunition casings from a particular crime scene involving a firearm against a database of thousands of other casings from jurisdictions throughout the region. Currently, there is only one such machine in the entire state. The purchase of this additional machine will help provide actionable investigative leads more quickly and across jurisdictions by identifying the same firearm used in different crimes.

“The participation of Pawtucket Police, along with that of Providence and Central Falls, working with the Attorney General and Department of Corrections, allows us all to join in the efforts to protect our communities from violent crimes,” said Pawtucket Acting Public Safety Director Chief Tina Goncalves. “We have been able to effectively use the strategy and communication of the task force to reduce any barriers that may have been present in addressing violent crime.”

“This violence-reduction strategy is shaped not only by the science, but also by the lived experience of those who have been exposed to said violence firsthand. The multi-jurisdictional effort signals an expanded commitment from the Central Falls Police Department as well as partnering agencies to safeguard our communities,” said Colonel Anthony Roberson, Central Falls police chief.


Yielding results

To date, this law enforcement initiative has led to the arrest and prosecution of multiple defendants in multiple cases for illegal firearms trafficking or possession, including:  David Granville, Shaquille Granville, Jose Martinez, Antonio Vazquez, Jose Rodriguez, and Michelle Chase.

With respect to Love, as alleged in court documents, investigators conducted an investigation into illegal firearm trafficking in the greater Providence area in 2020 that led to the prosecution of four defendants involved in the operation of an illegal firearm straw-purchasing scheme, including Theodore Braxton, Ralph Gbaie, and Amerlia Holmes.  As a further step in that straw-purchasing investigation, the task force identified Love, who as a previously convicted felon is barred from lawfully purchasing a firearm from a licensed firearms dealer himself, as having purchased a Taurus G2C 9mm semi-automatic pistol from Amerlia Holmes.

In the several weeks preceding his arrest, investigators identified Love 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 Love’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. “As we continue to make investigations into this illegal activity a strong focus of law enforcement officials in Rhode Island, this initiative will enhance our agencies’ ability to utilize data, technology, and intelligence to more efficiently analyze, investigate and connect the players involved. I commend the RI Attorney General’s Office, ATF and Woonsocket PD for working together with the members of the PPD, notably Detective Theodore J. Michael, on the implementation of this initiative and investigation and prosecution of this case.”

“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 and Ralph Gbaie were convicted of their roles in the straw purchasing scheme in February 2021 and were sentenced to a combined 16 years to serve at the Adult Correctional Institutions. The prosecution against Amerlia Holmes remains pending in Providence County Superior Court.

Detective Theodore J. Michael of the Providence Police Department, deputized by the Office of the Attorney General; Detective Dennis Smith of the Pawtucket Police Department, deputized by the Office of the Attorney General; Special Agents Christian Jardin and Meaghan Croke of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and Investigator William Dwyer, Assistant Attorney General Joseph J. McBurney, and Special Assistant Attorney General Alison Bittl of the Office of the Attorney General are leading the investigation and prosecution of the case, with assistance from the Woonsocket Police Department.