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Wood County man sentenced to five years for gun crime

CHARLESTON — A Wood County man was sentenced to 60 months in a federal prison for possessing firearms after being involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, the U.S. attorney said.

Upon release from prison, Benjamin Lee Parsons, 31, of Mineral Wells, will serve three years of federal supervised release, during which he will receive mental health treatment, U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart said. Parsons was prosecuted under the Project Guardian initiative, Stuart said.

Beginning in 2016, Parsons was under investigation arising from making threats against police and others and claiming to have interest in terrorist organizations, Stuart said. In December 2015, he wore a mask to a church service in Mineral Wells, Stuart said.

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, Stuart said.

The Wood County Sheriff’s Department responded and seized numerous firearms from his residence, Stuart said.

Parsons was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital by Wood County Circuit Judge Jason Wharton in February 2017, Stuart said. That adjudication prohibited him from possessing firearms under both state and federal law, Stuart said.

In October 2018, investigators learned Parsons had acquired additional firearms, including a high-capacity semiautomatic FNH model M249S 5.56 caliber assault rifle, Stuart said. The rifle is the semi-automatic civilian version of the Squad Assault Weapon used by the United States military, he said.

Federal and local police learned 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.

Police arrested Parsons on Oct. 31, 2018, on a federal charge of conspiracy to provide false information to a federally licensed firearms dealer during the acquisition of a firearm, Stuart said.

On Nov. 2, 2018, investigators executed a search warrant at a wooded area in Mineral Wells where Parsons had been living, 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 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.

On May 20, Parsons pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing the SAW and Molot 5.45×39 rifle after being committed to a mental institution, Stuart said.

Stuart commended the investigative efforts of the Wood County Sheriff’s Department, the Parkersburg Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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

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