SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s top federal prosecutor offered a bit of criticism for the state’s lawmakers, as he said a federal program in Ogden is targeting criminals that have slipped through the cracks of the state system.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah John Huber told the Standard-Examiner on Monday that Project Safe Neighborhoods — a collaborative effort between local and federal law enforcement to increase federal prosecutions — will continue to be in place for the foreseeable future.
Huber announced the initiative in 2018 as part of a larger, national effort to curb violent crime, and Ogden saw a drop in part-one crimes between 2018 and 2019. Part-one crimes consist of homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft and arson.
That’s a direct result of the federal initiative, according to Huber, who criticized lawmakers for not allowing for more harsh sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders. The federal court system, he argued, allows for stiffer punishments for those with a criminal record who are caught with illegal firearms and large amounts of drugs.
“The cases we bring under Project Safe Neighborhoods are the cases that should’ve been handled better in state courts,” Huber said.
He made clear that his concerns did not rest on that of local police, prosecutors or judges, but rather state lawmakers who are responsible for implementing the statutes that guide sentencing in state courts.
For his PSN program, Huber said he wants to target those career criminals who legally cannot possess firearms and have a history of drug crimes. He said that most, but not quite all of those charged federally under PSN meet that criteria.
“These are examples of people the state has failed to protect citizens from,” Huber said.
One case in particular that he referenced was that of an Ogden man Rory Cordova, whom law enforcement officials believe is responsible for a 2018 shooting at a child’s birthday in Ogden and the shooting of a South Salt Lake City home while two people were inside. A complaint filed in federal court alleges Cordova is a documented gang member. The complaint also indicates Cordova is a seven-time convicted felon in Utah state courts.
Cordova was facing two counts of possessing a firearm following a felony conviction. As of Friday, Cordova’s case was still pending, and if convicted he could spend a maximum of 10 years in a federal prison.
Cases like that of Cordova are examples Huber points to as cases that his initiative aims to get off the streets. He also noted that when someone is federally prosecuted, they are sent to prison facilities out of Utah, as the state does not have any federal prison facilities.
A search of those indicted under PSN reveal a pattern that often occurs for these cases. Many defendants accused of drug or gun crimes are first charged in state courts, but state charges are later dismissed without prejudice once federal charges are brought forward.
If a case is dismissed without prejudice, the charges are closed but can be reopened if a prosecuting agency sees fit. By taking this process, federal prosecutors effectively have a safety net in the event that their prosecutions are not successful; they can send the case back to state courts if needed.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, two PSN cases have eventually been dismissed. One case was that of former Ogden resident Emanuel Carranza, who was federally charged with robbing two stores in 2018.
The federal charges were later dismissed after on Feb. 21, 2019 by prosecutors, according to court documents. Prosecutors said in a motion that “an essential to the prosecution passed away,” and the case must be dropped. The dismissal motion did not state what were the circumstances of the witness’ death.
Fortunately for federal prosectors, Carranza still had active cases in state courts. In particular, one case that accused him of abducting a man at gunpoint and keeping him overnight, forcing the man to perform chores at his home. The man reportedly witnessed Carranza fire several gunshots at a home.
The man was able to escape after Carranza drove him to a Walmart to buy ammunition. The man alerted employees of the store who notified law enforcement and later apprehended Carranza.
Carranza, 31, was found guilty in February on single counts of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, felony discharge of a firearm and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person — all first-degree felonies — as well as failing to stop at the command of police, a third-degree felony. Carranza was found not guilty of aggravated assault, a first-degree felony.
As of Jan. 23, 88 federal cases were filed under PSN, with federal officials netting 47 convictions. The average sentence for those prosecuted is 34.5 months, or nearly three years in a federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.