Mineral Wells man pleads guilty to weapons charge

CHARLESTON — A Wood County man who possessed firearms after being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital has pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia said on Tuesday.

Benjamin Lee Parsons, 31, of Mineral Wells entered a guilty plea to illegal possession of a firearm, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said.

On Oct. 31, investigators executed a federal search warrant on a wooded property in Mineral Wells where Parsons had been living in a tent. The warrant was the culmination of an investigation of Parsons related to his acquisition of a high-capacity semiautomatic FNH model M249S 5.56 caliber assault rifle, Stuart said.

The rifle is the semiautomatic civilian version of the Squad Assault Weapon used by the United States military, Stuart said. 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, Stuart said.

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, Stuart said. The FNH was loaded with approximately 190 rounds of belted ammunition in a drum magazine, Stuart said.

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, Stuart said.

Parsons was prohibited from possessing the firearms and ammunition as a result of having been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in February 2017 by Wood County Circuit Judge Jason Wharton. Parsons faces up to 10 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on Aug 27.

Assistant United States Attorney Joshua C. Hanks is handling the prosecution. Senior United States District Court Judge David A. Faber presided over the plea hearing.

Stuart commended the investigative efforts of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, the Parkersburg Narcotics and Violent Crimes Task Force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

“Excellent work by law enforcement,” Stuart said. “These guns were definitely in the wrong hands.”

This case is being prosecuted as part of the Project Safe Neighborhoods program, the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. The evidence-based program has been effective in reducing violent crime, Stuart said.