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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
Western District of Wisconsin
For Immediate Release
Timothy M. O’Shea, United States Attorney
Monday, September 12, 2022

La Crosse Man Sentenced to 81 Months for Illegal Firearm Possession & Cocaine Trafficking

MADISON, WIS. – Timothy M. O’Shea, United States Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, announced that Curtis W. Ross, 34, La Crosse, Wisconsin was sentenced on Friday, September 9, by Chief U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson to 81 months in federal prison for possessing a firearm as a felon, possessing cocaine with the intent to distribute, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. This prison term will be followed by 60 months of supervised release. Ross pleaded guilty to these charges on June 15, 2022.

On September 8, 2021, La Crosse Police Department (LCPD) officers pulled over a car driven by Ross because officers knew that probable cause existed to arrest the passenger and co-defendant, Lee Strawder, for violations of his state bond. Officers smelled marijuana coming from the vehicle and searched the vehicle. Under the front passenger seat, officers found a loaded Canik 9mm handgun, a loaded Beretta 9mm handgun, and a bag containing over an ounce of marijuana. Ross’s DNA was found on the Beretta. Strawder’s DNA was found on the Canik. Both Ross and Strawder were prohibited from legally possessing firearms due to prior felony convictions.

A backseat passenger told officers that he was in the car to purchase cocaine from Ross. After Ross was transported to jail, the transporting officer located three baggies of cocaine in his squad car that had been left there by Ross.

Officers searched Ross’s cell phone and found multiple photos of him with firearms, including what were believed to be the same Canik and Beretta handguns found in the car on September 8. Officers also located conversations on Ross’s phone where he discussed the buying and selling of narcotics as well as a firearm.

A few days after his arrest, Ross was released from custody on a signature bond. Less than a month later, on October 5, 2021, LCPD officers purchased heroin and fentanyl from Ross in La Crosse using a confidential informant.

On February 22, 2022, LCPD officers received a report that Ross had stolen his girlfriend’s truck. Officers responded and observed Ross running between houses. While an officer was following Ross in a squad car, Ross pointed a firearm and shot in the direction of the officer. Ross was located hiding under a vehicle. A loaded SCCY handgun and a spent casing were found in the area. Ross had baggies of cocaine and heroin, a loaded magazine, and a large quantity of cash on his person. He has been charged in state court in La Crosse for the shooting incident surrounding his arrest. At all relevant times, Ross was out on bond for a 2019 Milwaukee County case which involved possession of a firearm by a felon and felony drug possession.

At sentencing, Judge Peterson highlighted Ross’s firearm possession and that his involvement with multiple different firearms was particularly aggravating. Judge Peterson noted that the allegation that Ross discharged a firearm was especially concerning.

Co-defendant Lee Strawder pleaded guilty on June 22 to possessing a firearm as a felon. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing before Judge Peterson on October 6, 2022. Strawder faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The charges against Ross were the result of an investigation conducted by the La Crosse Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The La Crosse County District Attorney’s Office also provided assistance in the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven P. Anderson is prosecuting this case.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.

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