For Immediate Release
Wood County Man Sentenced to Five Years in Federal Prison for Gun Crime
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – United States Attorney Mike Stuart announced that Benjamin Lee Parsons, 31, of Mineral Wells, was sentenced to 60 months in federal prison for possessing firearms after being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Upon release from prison, Parsons will serve three years of federal supervised release, during which he will receive mental health treatment. Stuart commended the investigative efforts of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, the Parkersburg Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
“We are simply not going to tolerate the possession of firearms by anyone that has been prohibited as a result of mental health considerations. We are not going to wonder why we didn’t do more after the fact,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Project Guardian is an important, innovative initiative of Attorney General Barr aimed at reducing gun violence. My office is working with ATF and other federal, state and local partners to identify, investigate and prosecute cases like this one where the threat of gun violence is real. Excellent work by the entire team on this important case.”
Beginning in 2016, Parsons was under investigation arising from making threats against police and others and claiming to have interest in terrorist organizations. In December 2015, he wore a mask to a church service in Mineral Wells. In January 2017, he told several witnesses at a church in Parkersburg that he was armed, that he had recently thought about shooting police, that he had been watching violent terrorist videos, and that he had communicated with foreign terrorists and discussed several “soft targets” in Wood County. The Wood County Sheriff’s Department responded and seized numerous firearms from his residence. Parsons was later involuntarily committed to a mental hospital by Wood County Circuit Judge Jason Wharton in February 2017. That adjudication prohibited him from possessing firearms under both state and federal law.
In October 2018, investigators learned that Parsons had acquired additional firearms including a high-capacity semiautomatic FNH model M249S 5.56 caliber assault rifle. The rifle is the semiautomatic civilian version of the Squad Assault Weapon (SAW) used by the United States military. Federal and local police learned that Parsons had obtained the weapon from another individual who told investigators that he had purchased it for Parsons from a licensed firearms dealer in Marietta, Ohio. Police arrested Parsons on October 31, 2018 on a federal charge of conspiracy to provide false information to a federally licensed firearms dealer during the acquisition of a firearm. On November 2, 2018, investigators executed a search warrant at a wooded area in Mineral Wells where Parsons had been living. When investigators executed the search warrant, they recovered the FNH assault rifle and a Molot 5.45x39mm rifle from a locked case Parsons kept at his campsite on the property. The FNH was loaded with approximately 190 rounds of belted ammunition in a drum magazine. Investigators also located and seized 12 magazines for the Molot loaded with 164 rounds of ammunition, 32 additional unloaded magazines, and approximately 640 rounds of 9mm and other rifle ammunition.
On May 20, 2019, Parsons pled guilty in federal court to possessing the SAW and Molot 5.45x39 rifle after being committed to a mental institution.
Assistant United States Attorney Joshua C. Hanks handled the prosecution. Senior United States District Judge David A. Faber presided over the plea hearing.
This case is part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities. The United States Attorney’s Office has prosecuted this case with support from the following Project Guardian partners: the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, the Parkersburg Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). For more information about Project Guardian, please see: https://www.justice.gov/projectguardian.