Convicted Felon Pleads Guilty to Possessing Rifle During Unrest in Virginia

August 27, 2020 Updated: August 27, 2020

A convicted felon pleaded guilty this week to possessing firearms during civil unrest in Richmond, Virginia, in June.

Matthew Lee Frezza, 37, was pulled over on June 12 after driving recklessly around the Robert E. Lee monument, a focal point for demonstrations in recent months.

The statue was ordered taken down by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, in June, but courts have blocked the removal twice.

Police officers saw that Frezza, who was riding in the passenger seat, and the two others inside the truck were carrying firearms.

Police officers asked all three occupants to exit the truck. Soon after, they determined Frezza was a convicted felon and placed him under arrest.

Frezza possessed a Taurus, Model G3, 9mm caliber, semi-automatic pistol and a homemade rifle without a serial number.

Because of his status as a felon, Frezza is forbidden from possessing a firearm and ammunition.

Gen. Lee statue
The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that stands in the middle of a traffic circle on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., on June 27, 2017. (Steve Helber/AP Photo)

Instead, he “chose to openly flout state and federal law by unlawfully possessing multiple firearms and eight magazines of ammunition,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.

“Firearms in the possession of a convicted felon are always a public safety concern, but especially so when multiple weapons are recovered during a potentially volatile situation, such as civil unrest,” Ashan Benedict, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Washington Field Division, added.

“This defendant’s guilty plea confirms that the unlawful possession of a firearm is a serious offense and we are grateful to U.S. Attorney Terwilliger and our law enforcement partners in Richmond for this successful outcome.”

Frezza faces up to 10 years in prison. He is due to be sentenced on Dec. 10.

The case is part of Project Guardian, a federal effort to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber