Records show how — and who helped — one AZ felon circumvent gun laws

Published: Wednesday, June 14, 2023 - 2:52pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 14, 2023 - 2:54pm
Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry
Essa Williams

Three cases moving through federal court in Arizona illustrate how one convicted felon managed to get his hands on at least three firearms after serving time for gun-related crimes.

Essa Williams, 25, is now awaiting trial in a shooting that left a Phoenix police officer with life-altering injuries.

A federally licensed firearms dealer and two others will be sentenced in the coming months for their roles in arming Williams, a prohibited possessor. Public records show Williams was 17 when he committed armed robbery and aggravated assault, crimes for which he pleaded guilty and spent more than three years in prison.

Fast forward nearly five months from the day Williams was released from the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation & Reentry in April 2020. Federal prosecutors say that’s when his mother bought a pistol on his behalf from a pawn shop.

In filling out the firearm transaction record, prosecutors say Erika LaRae Williams represented herself as the actual buyer of the Taurus G3 9 mm pistol. As the form stipulates, “you are not the actual transferee/buyer if you are acquiring any of the firearm(s) on behalf of another person.”

The elder Williams pleaded guilty in May to making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. She is scheduled to be sentenced in August by a U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix.

Essa Williams’ girlfriend, Alice Berdicchia, has also entered a guilty plea. In an agreement accepted by the court June 1, Berdicchia admitted to misprision of a felony – having knowledge of a crime but failing to alert authorities.

Berdicchia said in the plea agreement that she knew it was illegal for Williams to have a firearm yet agreed to bring him a GLOCK 9 mm pistol in November 2021. She faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison, a fine up to $250,000 or both, when sentenced in August.

The third defendant, firearms dealer Dwayne Keith Anderson, has pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the making of a false statement. An ATF investigation revealed Anderson made good on an offer to help Williams avoid a background check when he met him at a gun show in December 2021.

Anderson was doing business at the time as 602 Firearms Instruction LLC. The company’s website, which was still active as of this writing, says its mission is “to provide law-abiding citizens with the knowledge, skills, attitude, and confidence regarding the safety, handling, shooting, cleaning, and storing of firearms."

In the plea agreement, Anderson said he gave his card to Williams at the gun show and later filled out a firearms transaction form using false identification that Williams texted to him. The record shows Williams paid him $230 cash in exchange for a MasterPiece Arms Defender 9 mm pistol.

Anderson handed over the gun to Williams on Dec. 13, 2021. In less than 24 hours, Williams would again be in police custody, this time in connection with the shooting of Phoenix police Officer Tyler Moldovan.

Federal prosecutors say none of the firearms at issue were used to shoot Moldovan.

Anderson faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both when he’s sentenced in August.

Law Enforcement