Getting violent criminals and drug traffickers off Lexington’s streets and into prison is the focus of a new collaborative effort by federal, state and local authorities.
Part of the program’s focus is to prosecute certain violent offenders in federal court, where they face the prospect of longer sentences.
A new group, which will include Lexington police, the Fayette sheriff’s office and various federal agencies, will share intelligence and coordinate resources. U.S. Attorney Robert M. Duncan Jr. and Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn will soon formally announce the joint effort. It comes as Lexington comes off a year with a record number of 28 murders and a February with four murders in four days.
The plan is a reinvigorated version of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a George W. Bush-era program initially launched in 2001 to tackle gun crime. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the renewed effort in October.
“We’ve been directed to try to identify the worst of the worst in our community and use whatever tools we have to remove them from the community,” Duncan said in an interview. “The attorney general has directed us to look at those folks who are actively engaged in violence, those folks who are the trigger pullers.”
Bourbon Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordie Shaw said Project Safe Neighborhoods made a “significant dent” in Paris seven or eight years ago when 55 defendants were prosecuted and convicted in federal court on various gun, gang and drug crimes.
The working group in Lexington will focus on individuals responsible for violent crimes and significant drug trafficking in the area.
In an example outside Lexington, earlier this month two Detroit men prosecuted through Project Safe Neighborhoods were sentenced to federal prison for drug and firearm offenses. Marcella Lorenzo Dunbar, 37, was sentenced to more than eight years in prison for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Gerald Jones, 31, was sentenced to more than four years in prison for conspiracy to distribute oxycodone.
The two had admitted that they traveled from Detroit to Winchester in late 2016 and began selling oxycodone to local users. Dunbar also admitted to renting a house in Winchester so that he and Jones could sell oxycodone. Detroit is a known source city for drug trafficking in Central Kentucky, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
When they were arrested, the two were found in possession of 1,550 oxycodone pills, a firearm and $4,750 in drug proceeds.
Under federal law, the two must serve 85 percent of their sentences, and upon release, they will be under supervision of the U.S. Probation Office.
Red Corn, the Fayette commonwealth’s attorney, said her office and the U.S. attorney’s office have worked together in the past to see which “could get the best outcome” in prosecuting career criminals.
The new effort is a “broader look at individuals” who are committing offenses with guns, she said.
“Many of the offenders we’re looking at today are younger offenders” who wouldn’t necessarily have lengthy criminal records, Red Corn said.
“You only need to read the newspaper to see that we’ve had an increase in the last couple of years with young people with guns,” she said. “This is tied in to groups or to drugs, and we are constantly trying to review and refresh and develop the way that we approach crime because the nature of crime changes. We’re working to change right along with it.”
Duncan said the focus on violent offenders won’t take away from other priorities.
“We will continue to prosecute the cases that we always have. Reducing the access to opiates and opioids are going to continue to be a high priority for us,” Duncan said. “We’ll continue to prosecute white-collar offenses. We’re not going to shy away from prosecuting the public corruption cases, prosecuting the significant white-collar frauds.
“The bottom line is, whoever can get them off the streets, whoever can help make the community safer, that’s where they will be prosecuted,” Duncan said. “To me, who prosecutes them is less important. Rather, it should be about who can make the community safer.”