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California man sentenced for gun trafficking

A California man has been sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for his role in a Southern Oregon gun trafficking scheme in which a woman bought firearms on his behalf — including three at Grants Pass businesses — in exchange for drugs.

 Charles Thornton, 39, of Patterson, Calif., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Eugene to three counts of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms and three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, and was given a sentence of 41 months.

 Federal prosecutors alleged that Thornton dealt crack-cocaine and recruited an addict named Eleanor Arceneaux to purchase firearms for him in exchange for crack. Over a several-month period beginning in August 2008, Arceneaux bought 35 guns for Thornton and others, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. In the purchases Thornton was involved in, he would allegedly accompany her to the firearms dealer, give her money for the guns, and tell her which ones to buy.

 The indictment named five Southern Oregon businesses where purchases occurred, including Grants Pass dealers Pawn Plus LLC, Russco Guns and Northwest Cash & Pawn.

 Several of those guns later turned up at crime scenes in Oakland, Calif., prosecutors said. According to the indictment, the guns included 9mm, .40-caliber and .45-caliber pistols.

 In a sentencing memo filed in court, Thornton's attorney Robert Schrank said Thornton was born and raised in Oakland by a single mother, and began hanging out on the streets and getting into trouble at a young age. In 2007, he moved to Medford, where a cousin lived, and tried to get his life together but ended up using drugs again. He met Arceneaux and the two began working together on the straw purchases.

 After the crimes occurred, Thornton moved back to California where his 10-year-old son lives, and enrolled in a vocational program studying heating, ventilating and air conditioning.

 Thornton wrote in the memo, "I've come to realize that in order to be forgiven, I must first be forgiving to others and myself. Now, my primary goal is to be there for my son, and not have him venture down the same paths that I have traveled."

Arceneaux pleaded guilty in June to one count of conspiracy to straw purchase firearms and nine counts of making false statements in connection with the acquisition of firearms, and was sentenced to five years' probation.

 The investigation was spearheaded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

 In July, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office announced that 31 people had been indicted in connection with another, separate, straw-buying investigation. The investigation was sparked by the June 2013 death of 5-year-old Alysa Bobbitt, who was killed when a man named John Meyer accidentally fired shots from an SKS military-style rifle through the ceiling of a Grants Pass apartment, hitting the young girl, who was in an upstairs room.

 Meyer was determined to be a firearms straw buyer — someone who purchases guns on behalf of another person, thereby concealing the true recipient's identity — and the examination of his activities triggered the larger investigation. As a result, authorities said they uncovered two murder plots, and also indicated that some of the guns purchased fraudulently in Southern Oregon ended up at California crime scenes.

 A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office was not immediately able to confirm whether the two investigations had any links to each other.