A federal jury in Anchorage last Wednesday, Nov. 15, found guilty a Voznesenka man for being a felon in possession of firearms. Sentencing for Joseph Kuzmin, 41, is Feb. 5, 2018. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office on Friday, Kuzmin faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
In a March 2017 federal indictment, a grand jury alleged Kuzmin possessed a Ruger model 10/22 .22-caliber rifle and a Ruger model M77 .300-caliber rifle as well as ammunition for the rifles. Kuzmin has three felony convictions, all Homer charges in state court, including a 2006 offense for third-degree assault, and two 2009 offenses for driving under the influence and refusal to submit to a chemical test. Kuzmin also has numerous misdemeanor charges and convictions.
The firearms charge came about when Alaska State Troopers on Dec. 29, 2016, responded to a 911 call of a domestic violence assault at an East End Road home in Voznesenka. In charging documents, Sgt. Daniel Cox, head of the Anchor Point Trooper Post, wrote that the caller claimed Kuzmin, a relative, choked him. The alleged victim, a young man, lives with his mother in Oregon and had been visiting Kuzmin for the Christmas holiday. He told troopers that at about 9 p.m. on Dec. 28 Kuzmin yelled at him, grabbed him by the head and shook him.
At Kuzmin’s federal trial, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonas Walker, the jury heard testimony that Kuzmin assaulted the man, threatened to shoot him, another relative and any police officers who responded.
In state court, the Kenai District Attorney charged Kuzmin with two counts of fourth-degree assault, domestic violence. After attempts to hold a trial in February and April, on Sept. 1 assistant district attorney Nicholas Torres dismissed the charges. In a June 29 response to a motion by Kuzmin’s attorney to have the charges dismissed because of a failure to hold a speedy trial, the DA’s office claimed on April 10 the state was ready to go to trial. Federal officers arrested Kuzmin that same day. At an April 14 status hearing, state officials could not find the location of Kuzmin other than that he was in federal custody. Kuzmin was in a state facility but held under a federal contract to detain federal prisoners. In June the state got a writ to have him delivered by U.S. Marshalls to trial. Torres did not respond to an email seeking an explanation as to why the state charges were dismissed.
The Alaska U.S. Attorney’s office expressed appreciation to the Alaska State Troopers and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for its assistance, Public Affairs Officer Chloe Martin said in the press release announcing Kuzmin’s conviction. She said in an email that state and federal authorities communicate with each other regarding if the U.S. Department of Justice should pursue charges arising from a state case.
“When it comes to investigative and prosecutorial decisions, there will always be collaboration and discussion amongst federal, state and local law enforcement,” Martin wrote.
The troopers also have a similar working relationship, trooper spokesperson Megan Peters wrote in an email.
“We (AST) have a long standing relationship with federal law enforcement partners FBI, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), ATF, USMS (U.S. Marshals Service). We have troopers assigned to task forces run by FBI, DEA and USMS which reinforce those relationships,” Peters wrote. “Often cases are worked together, other times information is shared such that a federal prosecution can be pursued if an offense and offender could be better addressed federally. The state DAs and Assistant US Attorneys are consulted on these matters and ultimately decide where cases are prosecuted.”
Kuzmin has a history of arrests for making violent threats going back to 2003. In an April 2003 incident, troopers arrested Kuzmin after he made a distress call on a fishing boat in the Kupreanof Straits. Kuzmin claimed the crew assaulted him, held him at gunpoint and forced him to sail the boat back to Kodiak. Troopers charged Kuzmin with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, weapons misconduct and driving under the influence. Kuzmin pleaded no contest to charges of fourth-degree assault and fourth-degree weapons misconduct.
In 2014, troopers went to another incident where guests at a wedding party in Kachemak Selo tied up Kuzmin after he became unruly and allegedly made threats against people at the party.
Troopers got an anonymous 911 call and went to Kuzmin’s home near Mile 20 East End Road, where they found him tied up and drunk. Witnesses told troopers Kuzmin had a violent history and they did not wish to be identified for fear of retaliation. Kuzmin was charged with second-degree terroristic threatening, but Judge Margaret Murphy dismissed the charge because a preliminary hearing was not held within 10 days of his arrest on a felony charge.
Under Alaska court rules, a defendant in custody on a felony charge must either have a preliminary hearing or be indicted by a grand jury within 10 days or the charge is dismissed.
In February 2016, troopers arrested Kuzmin after they said he threatened to kill a 17-year-old boy and burn down his house as well as threatened to kill three men and burn down their houses. Felony charges of burglary and terroristic threatening were dismissed, but Kuzmin pleaded guilty to one count of fourth-degree assault.
Under federal law, people wishing to purchase firearms from licensed dealers must be screened through a National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. If the system worked properly, the NICS should have shown that Kuzmin was a convicted felon and he would not have been able to buy firearms from a licensed dealer. ATF recommends that people buying firearms from a private seller get an NICS background through a licensed dealer, said Jason Chudy, ATF public information officer, Seattle.
Martin said she did not have any information as to how Kuzmin acquired the rifles he was found to illegally possess.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.