By Lee Williams
By all accounts, Yunis Isaac Mejia was a good guy – certainly not the type of man who should be spending his next two birthdays behind the wire in a federal prison.
Mejia, a former police dispatcher, had never been arrested in his life until he unknowingly invited an FBI informant to shoot steel plates on his five-acre property near St. Cloud, Florida.
Several years before his arrest, Mejia, 28, worked as a 911 dispatcher for the Bonham, Texas Police Department. “He always showed up on time, had a good personality and always got along well with others,” Bonham Chief of Police Mike Bankston said Tuesday.
Chief Bankston said Mejia and two coworkers were officially commended for their work during a 911 outage.
“He and two other dispatchers went the extra mile for an attaboy,” Chief Bankston said. “When 911 went down, one even went to the Sheriff’s Office and helped them. Yunnis (Mejia) was a good guy with a good personality. He got along well with others and never had any complaints.”
Mejia was also a licensed pilot.
He dreamt of someday becoming a commercial airline pilot. But that dream ended when an informant, whom the FBI calls a “Confidential Human Source” or CHS, came over to his house.
Joint Terrorism Task Force
Erika D. Shaw is a Special Agent for the FBI. She is responsible for Mejia’s case, his arrest and, ultimately, for his prosecution.
“I am currently assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (the “JTTF”) of FBI’s Tampa Division, Orlando Resident Agency,” Shaw wrote in Mejia’s complaint. “In this capacity I investigate, among other things, criminal cases relating to international and domestic terrorism.”
In her complaint, Shaw never says why she targeted Mejia, or why the informant was sent to his home.
The informant, or CHS, wasn’t paid for setting up Mejia. Instead, they were cooperating with the FBI to avoid prosecution by ICE.
“The CHS is a reliable source who has, for less than one year, provided accurate and reliable information that has been corroborated by the FBI,” Shaw wrote in the complaint. “Prior to becoming a CHS, the CHS was arrested in or about June 2020 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a charge of Nonimmigrant Student Out of Status: Failure to Attend and was briefly detained.”
According to the complaint, on Oct. 29, 2020, the informant first went to Mejia’s home, which Shaw described as a 4.91-acre property with outbuildings including a large metal garage and two pole buildings.
Mejia invited the informant via a text message. The two had been texting for three months.
“The meeting was recorded by a concealed audio device provided to the CHS by law enforcement prior to the scheduled meeting,” Shaw’s complaint states.
Mejia showed the informant three guns including a CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1, which had a suppressor and shoulder stock attached. The informant “surreptitiously” took photos of the Scorpion with a cell phone provided by the FBI.
The two shot the Scorpion at metal plates on Mejia’s wood and earthen berm. The informant tried to take a video of Mejia shooting the weapon, but Mejia stopped him. “It’s not exactly, uh, something that you want to take a video of,” Mejia told him, according to court records.
Mejia invited the informant to shoot with him a second time on Nov. 13, 2020. The informant took video of Mejia shooting the Scorpion by using a concealed video recording device the FBI had given him.
The pair next met for lunch on Jan. 19, 2021. According to the complaint, “the CHS stated that the CHS wanted to purchase a firearm like the Scorpion, and Mejia explained to the CHS that the CHS would not be able to purchase a Scorpion with a stock, because the stock made it a short-barreled rifle.”
“As the conversation between Mejia and the CHS continued, Mejia explained to the CHS that there was a government regulation that one is supposed to comply with to have a short-barreled rifle, and Mejia suggested that he did not wish to comply with that regulation.”
In January 2021, FBI Special Agent Shaw met with ATF agents and was told that that ATF classifies the Scorpion as a pistol, and under federal law attaching a stock to the pistol makes it a short-barreled rifle, which requires registration and a tax stamp.
ATF traced the serial number of Mejia’s Scorpion and confirmed it was sold to him as a pistol, without the stock.
ATF also confirmed that Mejia had two silencers, which were both lawfully registered in accordance with the National Firearms Act: a 9mm registered in July 2019 and a .45 registered in January 2020. Mejia, ATF confirmed, had no other NFA weapons.
“Therefore, based on the aforementioned, I submit that probable cause exists to believe that Mejia has committed a violation of 26 U.S.C. § 5861(d), possession of an unregistered firearm,” Shaw wrote in the complaint.
Mejia was arrested on March 23, 2021 and released on pretrial supervision three months later.
After his arrest, Mejia called his former employer, Chief Bankston, for help. “He told me he had made a bad error in judgement. I sent him a letter of support,” Chief Bankston said. “He called me back and told me he was going to own up to what he did, take his licks and go on with his life.”
“I wish Yunis (Mejia) well,” the police chief said.
Mejia pleaded guilty to one count of Possession of Unregistered Firearm in violation of 26 U.S.C. §5861(d), 26 U.S.C. §5841 and 26 U.S.C. §5871. According to the sentencing memorandum, Mejia obtained a commercial drivers license while on pretrial release, and was working as a truck driver.
His sentencing hearing was held July 5, 2022.
“Mr. Mejia is 28 with no prior arrests or charges of any kind. He was in possession of a firearm without registering it, but there is no indication he is involved in any other criminal activity or wrongdoing. He is now labeled a felon because of his plea in this case and will have to live with that forever. We do not believe prison will help society or deter others from committing this sort of crime in the future. This entire experience has been a major wake up call for Mr. Mejia and how strictly enforced this law is. He will never be able to possess firearms again because of this conviction. He has been out on release for over a year following all the conditions placed upon him. We do not believe sending him to prison is going to benefit anyone in a case like this and therefore, are asking the Court to sentence Mr. Mejia to a period of Probation,” his attorney argued.
The court disagreed.
United States District Judge Carlos E. Mendoza sentenced Mejia to 21 months in a federal prison.
“According to evidence admitted during the sentencing hearing, Mejia illegally modified a CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 pistol, with a barrel less than 16 inches long, with an aftermarket shoulder stock. With this modification, Mejia illegally converted the pistol into a short-barreled rifle. Under the federal National Firearms Act, short-barreled rifles are required to be registered,” according to a DOJ press release. “Mejia then offered to sell his illegally modified firearm to a confidential source working at the direction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mejia also provided direction and instruction to the confidential source on how the confidential source could purchase the same model of pistol and modify it himself.”
The press release, which was issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, points out that Mejia’s case was “prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) Program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.”
Project Safe Neighborhoods, the press release states, identifies “the most pressing violent crime problems in the community,” and “focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders.”
The FBI was not willing to talk about Mejia’s case. Tampa FBI spokeswoman Andrea Aprea did not return calls or emails seeking comment for this story.
The ATF was not willing to talk about Mejia’s case, either. Tampa ATF spokeswoman Mary Salter initially called because she could not find Mejia in the ATF computer system – her secretary had misspelled Mejia’s name. However, after finding the case, Salter declined to comment.
Assistant United States Attorney Shawn P. Napier, who prosecuted Mejia, declined to comment. William Daniels, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, requested questions in writing, but only answered a few.
Asked if there were violent crimes in the Orlando area involving short-barreled rifles, Daniels replied, “The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting does not track whether the weapon used in a violent crime was modified. For additional crime statistics, you may need to contact the local law enforcement agencies for that jurisdiction.”
Asked if the modification Mejia made to the weapon made it more dangerous, Daniels said, “We do not wish to comment.”
Asked if Mejia profited in any way from his crime, Daniels said, “We do not wish to comment.”
Asked if the 21-month sentence was appropriate for the crime, Daniels provided a copy of the sentencing memorandum, which showed Mejia faced a sentencing range of 21-27 months.
Daniels did not respond when asked why the Joint Terrorism Task Force was involved in the case, or whether Mejia had terrorist ties or suspected terrorist ties (he did not).
Daniels did not respond when asked who was the actual victim of Mejia’s crime, or whether Mejia’s short-barreled rifle was one of the “most pressing violent crime problems in the community,” as specified by Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Neither did Daniels respond when asked if at the end or the day, he believed that justice was served in this case.
It is abundantly clear why no one with a federal badge in their billfold wants to talk about this case. It is a joke – a gross overreach – a sham.
It’s clear Special Agent Shaw and her bosses saw Mejia solely as a quick stat – an easy arrest to pump up their Project Safe Neighborhood numbers, and a way to let their superiors in Washington D.C. know Orlando FBI is hard at work keeping the neighborhoods safe.
Did Mejia break the law? Of course, he did.
Does he deserve to spend nearly two years behind bars for it? Of course, he doesn’t.
Picture Mejia sitting at his kitchen table with his Scorpion in one hand and the after-market stock in the other. When they’re attached, he’s committing a felony. When he takes them apart, he’s abiding by the law. Together – felony. Apart – no crime.
That is the absolute lunacy of the National Firearms Act. This is a victimless crime, after all. Who was harmed?
This case certainly doesn’t merit secret informants, covert video and audio recorders, agents from both the FBI and the ATF, search warrants for his property, seizures of his firearms and computers, and a lifelong felony record for a good kid who just likes to shoot plates safely on his own private range.
To be clear, Mejia was not a prohibited person – although he is now. He had a valid Florida Concealed Weapon and Firearm License, and he’s been through the NFA process twice when he successfully registered his 9mm and .45 suppressors.
This case highlights the vast difference between federal and local law enforcement. A police officer or sheriff’s deputy would have likely warned Mejia not to attach the stock, instead of treating him like he’s St. Cloud, Florida’s newest Al Qaeda sleeper cell.
The bottom line is this, if Mejia’s case is typical of the type of cases the FBI is generating, they clearly need more important things to do.
Perhaps they could use their time better by following up on the tips that they apparently receive quite often, about suspicious people who threaten to commit violent acts in our nation’s schools.
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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.