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Tsarnaev Pal Who Provided Gun Sentenced to Time Served

Stephen Silva, the long time friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was sentenced in federal court this week to time served for his possession of a weapon with a partially obliterated serial number and distribution of heroin. (History and details here.)

Why the break? He cooperated and testified at Tsarnaev's trial that he loaned Tsarnaev a Ruger P95 9mm pistol. He said Tsarnaev had told him it would be used to rob students who attended the University of Rhode Island. The gun was used after the Marathon bombing to kill MIT officer Sean Collier. (Tamerlan is alleged to have used the gun days later in the Watertown shootout. An officer testified Tamerlan threw it at him when he ran out of bullets.)

Last night while rummaging around the Internet, I found the transcript of Silva's testimony here. Not surprisingly, it contains many details I don't recall the media reporting when covering his testimony or sentencing. The sentencing pleadings by both sides contain even more details. Recap below: [More...]

He testified he was friends with Jahar since the 8th grade. His twin brother named Steven was also friends with Jahar. The three went to high school together and were lifeguards together. After high school, Steven attended U Mass at Dartmouth with Jahar, but Stephen went to college in Florida. After his freshman year, he returned to Boston, then went back to Florida but didn't go back to school. Instead he sold pot (as he had done in high school.) Then he moved back to Boston and lived with his brother and a friend named Nicholas Silva. All three sold pot.

His brother Steven had been robbed in 2012 (they were after his pot, not his money), after which he wanted to get a gun for protection. Steven Silva lost 2 pounds of pot in the robbery, worth several $6k to $10k "if you broke it all up." (According to the Government, it wasn't just Steven who was robbed. Stephen was robbed twice at some point.)

Around this time (late 2012), a friend of Stephen's named Howie had a gun that he needed to get out of his house. Stephen agreed to hold it for him. It was a Ruger P95 9 mm pistol. According to the Government's sentencing brief, Howie is Merhawi Berhe. Berbe has since been charged with possessing a weapon with a partially obliterated serial number. His case is pending.

When asked if he took Berbe's gun out from his house, Stephen Silva testified he and Nicholas Silva used the gun to rob and rip off two would-be drug customers.

Me and Nicholas got into the car. We were in the backseat. There were two individuals in the front passenger seat. We had talked very shortly, for a couple of minutes. We had asked to see the money; they had asked to see the marijuana. When the person in the passenger seat passed me the money I put it in my pocket, and then Nicholas reached into a bag, pulled out the gun, cocked back the slide, and then that was pretty much it.

Silva testified he told Jahar that he and Nicholas robbed the drug buyers with the gun. Jahar's reaction? According to Silva, he laughed. He said he showed the gun to Jahar when Jahar had come over with Dias Kadyrbayev. Dias didn't want anything to do with the gun - he wouldn't even touch it. Another friend named Abdul was present. Silva testified Jahar didn't show much interest in the gun that day.

Silva said he also brought the gun to a New Year's eve party in Medford. Jahar was at the party. When asked why, he said he was stupid and wanted to show it off.

Sometime in January, 2013, Jahar asked Silva to borrow the gun. He said he wanted it to rob some kids at University of Rhode Island. They talked about it on and off for a while, and in February, 2013, Jahar went to Silva's house (by himself) and picked it up.

Putting the gun aside for the moment, Silva also testified about Tsarnaev's views on U.S. policy in the middle east (from high school days.)

At this point in class I remember we were having a debate about American foreign policy in the Middle East and what are the sort of issues that America deals with in the Middle East. And the defendant had raised a point that American soldiers tend -- American foreign policy sometimes tends to be a little hostile towards the Middle East, you know, persecuting Muslims, going to war, trying to take over the people's culture, you know, to tell them what to do, stuff like that.

Q. And because of that, what?

A. And because of that, you know, it's wrong. Americans shouldn't be allowed to just go wherever they want and try to force people to believe in what they believe and not let them live their own lives or believe their own things that they want to believe in.

He testified he only saw Jahar get angry a couple of times:

Q. What were those times?
A. Times where -- I used to joke around with the defendant, call him a Russian refugee. That kind of ticked him off because he's very proud of his Chechen nationality.
Q. What was his reaction?
A. He'd get upset. He'd get angry, tell me shut up. I'm not Russian.
Q. Did he ever call you any names?
A. Yeah, a couple times.
Q. What kind of names would he call you?
(objection overruled)
A. This one time he called me a kafir.
Q. Kafir. What is a kafir to you?
A. I believe it's -- it means, like, nonbeliever, something along those lines

Within a one month period (June to July, 2014) Silva sold heroin 8 to 10 times to an undercover agent through a confidential informant, totaling 285 grams, worth thousands of dollars(according to Silva). The scheme was orchestrated by the Government to get evidence about Silva's connection to the Ruger, which ended up with the Tsarnaevs. Silva was charged with 8 felonies, and was facing a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. He believed his sentencing guideline range was between 5 and 7 years.

After the marathon bombing and receiving information about the Silva's possible connection to the Ruger which killed MIT officer Sean Collier, the Government approached both Silva brothers seeking their cooperation before initiating the sting against Stephen. Both refused. From the Government's motion for reduction for cooperation:

After Dzhokhar was charged in connection with the marathon bombing, the government identified Stephen and Steven Silva, two high school classmates of Dzhokhar who were well known Cambridge marijuana dealers, as individuals with potential information about the Ruger handgun that was used to kill MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. The Silva brothers refused to cooperate and both invoked their 5th Amendment rights. The government subsequently commenced this investigation of Stephen Silva with the goal of developing information about the gun that was used to kill Officer Collier.

Silva testified he last saw Tsarnaev a few weeks before the marathon when he sold Tsarnaev some pot. Silva was with his twin Steven and Jahar was with Dias. He said Jahar was in a rush. He also tweeted with Jahar the weekend before the Marathon, because Jahar's phone had been disconnected.

Silva testified he never met Tamerlan.

Silva's transactions with the informant were recorded. He told the informant numerous times he had provided the Ruger to Jahar. He also told the informant he had been robbed and wanted to have the person who robbed him "whacked." He offered the informant money to do it. But when the informant tried to follow up, Silva wasn't interested, leading the Government to conclude in its sentencing pleadings that he wasn't serious. (In asking Silva about it, the government referred to his proposal as "an additional business transaction."

The informant was apparently a female. According to the defense sentencing memorandum, after being arrested, Silva made comments to the effect of "someone should smack her" or "spit in her face." He also said the prosecutor was an "as*hole" and someone should "spit in his face."

He thought of Jahar as his best friend in high school. He didn't go to the same college as Jahar, but his twin did. Before the marathon, Silva only sold pot. He testified he made $1k to $2k a month. His partners were his brother and their roommate, Nicholas Silva. He said he was shocked to learn Jahar had a part in the bombings. After seeing his picture on TV, he said "I was in a state of huge shock, disbelief, paranoia." He said he stopped talking to people and stopped selling drugs for a while. He resumed selling drugs in the fall of 2013, and unlike before when he only sold pot, he started selling "cocaine, some Molly, prescription pills."

He was arrested by state authorities in the fall of 2013 for selling pot, and that case was pending at the time he testified in the bombing trial.

Silva admitted lying to the Government during his early interviews. For example, he denied having robbed anyone with the gun before giving it to Jahar.

One thing I found interesting was that Silva doesn't refer to Tsarnaev by his name. He calls him "the defendant."

According to the Government, Silva was an important witness:

In particular, his testimony cut against the defense argument that Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was the driving force behind the entire operation and that Dzhokhar was essentially under his sway. Silva’s testimony that it was Dzhokhar, not Tamerlan, who procured the Ruger was an important piece of evidence refuting this defense narrative.

I don't think that's necessarily true. Tsarnaev never gave him a reason for not being able to return the gun -- the defense tried to bring out in cross examination of Silva that the reason might have been because he didn't have it any more -- he might have given it to Tamerlan, or Tamerlan might have taken it. The judge wouldn't allow that line of questioning. The most he allowed was a question that allowed Silva to say that had he known the gun was for Tamerlan, he never would have lent it to Jahar.

Judy Clark reminded the jury during closing that Tamerlan's fingerprints, not Jahar's, were on the gun's magazine, and that Tamerlan had researched the Ruger P95. ("Tamerlan is the one who murdered Officer Collier.")("We don't deny that Jahar fully participated in the events, but if not for Tamerlan, it would not have happened."

I also think the Government's statement on the risks he took in cooperating is a bit of a stretch. Every defendant who cooperates and gets a "5k" risks being labeled a snitch.

In terms of risks undertaken, Silva cooperated in, and testified at, one of the most important terrorism cases in Massachusetts history, which was widely covered by the national and international press. Silva’s name will forever be tied to that case. Because he testified that he gave the gun to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that was used to kill MIT Police Officer Sean Collier (albeit not knowing that it would be used for that purpose), he may be simultaneously labeled a cooperator (with all that entails) and potentially (though wrongly) a terrorist sympathizer, or worse.

Silva, detained since his arrest in July, 2014 has served 17 months. The Government argued Silva wasn't entitled to the safety valve because a weapon (the Ruger) was used in the offense. It wanted 24 months for Silva. (If the safety valve applied, which would lower his guidelines by two levels, it wanted 18 months.) But as the defense argued, the Ruger wasn't part of the same offense or series of offenses or course of conduct for which Silva was being sentenced. He last possessed the gun in February, 2013. The heroin sales were in June-July, 2014 and there was no weapon involved. Also, Silva would never have sold heroin but for the Government sting. The heroin sales were a totally separate offense. The defense asked for 17 months (time served.)

Probation sided with Silva and so did the Judge. He ruled Silva was entitled to the safety valve. So in the end, the 5 year mandatory minimum didn't apply, regardless of whether he cooperated. All he had to do to get out from under the 5 year mandatory minimum sentence was truthfully tell the government about his crimes and his involvement in them, which he ultimately did. (See Statement of Reasons, D.E. 61, Case No.14-cr-10210-MLW.)

But it was his cooperation that led to the judge departing from a range of 37 to 46 months to time served.

The defendant cooperated immediately, at significant risk, in providing truthful, valuable testimony that contributed to the conviction of the "Marathon Bomber."

Silva's twin brother Steven was in the courtroom when Stephen was sentenced. On a lighter note:

Stephen Silva's twin brother, Steven Silva, erupted in applause when the sentence was read out and was escorted from the courtroom.

The officer's brother had this to say about the sentence:

I believe in the U.S. Justice System just as Sean did,” Andrew Collier said. “Happy holidays to everyone, and enjoy time with your family. It is precious.”

Silva was released immediately after his sentencing.

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  • Assuming he is telling the truth (none / 0) (#1)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 08:58:40 AM EST
    he spent 32 months in jail for aiding and abetting violent criminal acts.

    Not enough. Not near enough.

    No he spent 17 months in custody (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 12:24:21 PM EST
    and he did not aid and abet violent acts. Aiding and abetting requires one to know what the principal's venture was and act with the intent to make it succeed. Everyone agreed Silva had no idea what Tsarnaev was planning. He didn't loan the gun with the intent that the bombing succeed.

    There would have been no heroin sales had the government agent/informant not created the scheme to get info on the gun. He had not sold heroin before.


    Parent

    Actually: (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 02:01:04 PM EST
    "He said Tsarnaev had told him it would be used to rob students who attended the University of Rhode Island."

    Your words, Counselor...

    Parent

    what does robbing a student have to do (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 02:08:51 PM EST
    with the marathon bombing or a terrorist act?

    Parent
    the point is that he had no idea (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 02:11:35 PM EST
    Tsarnaev was planning on the Marathon bombing, or that the gun would used in its aftermath against a police officer or at a shootout with police. The court, the prosecutor and defense all agree on that. Why are you suggesting otherwise?

    Parent
    the government wrote (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 02:14:41 PM EST
    Because he testified that he gave the gun to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that was used to kill MIT Police Officer Sean Collier (albeit not knowing that it would be used for that purpose), he may be simultaneously labeled a cooperator (with all that entails) and potentially (though wrongly) a terrorist sympathizer, or worse.


    Parent
    To me when he gave him the gun... (none / 0) (#7)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 02:16:09 PM EST
    He said Tsarnaev had told him it would be used to rob students who attended the University of Rhode Island.

    ...that was aiding and abetting a violent criminal act. Armed robbery. No gun no robbery.(I don't think he knew the real purpose.)

    I'm not in favor of long sentences for first offenders and I'm not a lawyer. And my"legal" terminology  is undoubtedly wrong but 32 months just seems to little for what he did.

    Parent

    Jeralyn (none / 0) (#10)
    by NycNate on Sun Dec 27, 2015 at 07:37:08 AM EST
    In your post you wrote:

    "He cooperated and testified at Tsarnaev's trial that he loaned Tsarnaev a Ruger P95 9mm pistol. He said Tsarnaev had told him it would be used to rob students who attended the University of Rhode Island. The gun was used after the Marathon bombing to kill MIT officer Sean Collier."

    Isnt this a straw purchase?  It is also similar to the case in San Bernadino. At the least, he knew crimes would be occurring with this gun. Students may have been robbed. And in fact, an officer was killed with the gun. As a Dem, I'm tired of hearing people like this get a slap on the wrist while politicians lobby for more "sensible gun laws".  Had this guy not provided this gun to them, it wouldn't have been used by them to kill the officer.

    Parent

    On Point (none / 0) (#11)
    by TrevorBolder on Sun Dec 27, 2015 at 08:13:06 AM EST
    As a Dem, I'm tired of hearing people like this get a slap on the wrist while politicians lobby for more "sensible gun laws".

    Strictly enforce the gun laws already on the books

    Throw the book at straw purchases, they are illegal, and endanger people

    Parent

    no its not a straw purchase (none / 0) (#13)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Dec 27, 2015 at 09:56:59 PM EST
    Because he was not the owner and could not and did not  sell the gun or lie on any paperwork for its transfer or sale.

    Silva was holding it for a friend ("Howie" who is now indicted) who didn't want his mother to find it. Howie asked for it back and  Silva repeatedly kept asking Tsarnaev to return it but he didn't, always finding an excuse. Silva was more like a bailee.

    Since Silva's friend gave him the gun to hold a few months before Tsarnaev asked to borrow it, it's clear Silva didn't obtain possession of it with the intent of providing it to Tsarnaev. Also, the first time he showed it to Tsarnaev, Tsarnaev showed no particular interest in it. To me that suggests Tsarnaev didn't have any plans at that time to commit a crime.

    Generally, a straw purchase occurs when the actual buyer of a firearm uses another person, a "straw purchaser," to execute the paperwork necessary to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Or in some other prohibited way illegally obtains a firearm for someone else allowing that person to shield his identity from the feds.

    Do you really think the Tsarnaevs wouldn't have acquired a gun from someone else if Silva hadn't provided the gun? I don't.


    Parent

    Straw purchase (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by TrevorBolder on Mon Dec 28, 2015 at 05:38:35 AM EST
    Generally, a straw purchase occurs when the actual buyer of a firearm uses another person, a "straw purchaser," to execute the paperwork necessary to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer. Or in some other prohibited way illegally obtains a firearm for someone else allowing that person to shield his identity from the feds

    Isn't that what occurred here? A gun, a legal but dangerous item was transferred to someone unbeknownst to the Fed's, circumventing applicable gun control laws, was used in violent crimes.

    Whether the Tsarnaevs would have pursued their search for a weapon elsewhere does not reduce the culpability of someone not securing their gun, or placing it with individuals not cleared for gun possession.

    Parent

    This just seems fraught (3.50 / 2) (#14)
    by NycNate on Mon Dec 28, 2015 at 12:41:45 AM EST
    With loopholes. So you can "hold" a gun for "friend" and then give that gun to someone who kills an officer and get essentially a slap on the wrist. This doesn't seem enough of a deterrence to people intent on committing crime.

    If you need someone to hold your gun for you, you don't need a gun. Period!  And whoever takes possession of that gun should also assume responsibility.

    Parent

    There Are Still Key Things We Don't Know (none / 0) (#8)
    by RickyJim on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 09:30:43 PM EST
    1. Where were the bombs made?  The FBI testified at the trial that they don't know.  Apparently Dzhokhar  refused to tell them and maybe that is why the government wanted a death sentence.

    2. There is a Nova program about the bombings.  An expert said:
    So, could an amateur build and detonate two of these bombs almost at once, without any training?

    VAN ROMERO:The fact that they were two for two, kind of indicates to me that it was a little bit more than luck. And the fact that they were so close together--10 seconds, 10 to 15 seconds away is essentially simultaneous--to me it indicates some level of sophistication.

    Apparently all the bombs including the ones they used in the final shootout worked, unlike the bomb Farook left on the table in San Bernadino.  Who helped the Tsarnaevs make the bombs?  

    All the evidence points to Tamerlan (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Dec 26, 2015 at 10:18:23 PM EST
    I don't think there's any mystery. Read Judy Clarke's closing argument transcript starting at p. 20 where she goes through the bombing evidence.

    Tamerlan and Silva didn't know each other.

    Please keep the comments related to the Silvas and Jahar, and the court's sentencing, which is the topic of the post.

    It's not about the whether the Tsarnaevs' had some mysterious helpers the police failed to uncover. I don't want the thread to devolve into right wing conspiracy theories.

    Parent

    Of Course it Does (none / 0) (#12)
    by RickyJim on Sun Dec 27, 2015 at 09:32:12 AM EST
    But there is nothing in Tamerlan's background or Inspire Magazine to explain the point brought up on the Nova program.  Here is a good account of the FBI testimony.

    I think the relevance to the topic at hand is to contrast the leniency shown to Silva with that shown to Dzhokhar.  I am speculating it has something to do with Dzhokhar's failure to cooperate in clearing up the details.  If he took the fifth when being interviewed by the FBI, it wouldn't come up during the trial.  

    Parent