On April 21, Whitney T. Claybon, 32, of Iowa City was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for felon in possession of ammunition. Claybon will serve three years of supervised release following her prison term. John C. Vest-Walker, 35, of Iowa City was sentenced to 37 months in prison for drug user in possession of a firearm, false statement during a purchase of a firearm, and conspiracy. Vest-Walker will serve three years of supervised release following his prison term.

According to the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Iowa, Claybon and Vest-Walker were identified by police during a large-scale "straw purchasing" investigation, Operation Scarecrow. Straw purchases involve one person purchasing another item - typically a firearm - for someone who is legally unable to do so.

The investigation showed that Vest-Walker appeared at multiple search warrant locations seeking the return of one of his firearms. On Dec. 10, 2020, a firearm was seized from Vest-Walker's residence when a search warrant was executed. Vest-Walker admitted to being a marijuana user.

Further investigation showed that Vest-Walker purchased 13 firearms between May 2020 and January 2021, but only possessed one himself. Law enforcement recovered seven firearms purchased by vest from felons, drug users and other people banned from possessing firearms. Vest-Walker also falsified an ATF Form indicating he was the actual purchaser of the firearms while knowingly transferring the weapons to other people.

On Jan. 4, 2021, Claybon and Vest-Walker, went to a sporting goods store to look at firearms. Claybon gave money to Vest-Walker to purchase a firearm. Vest-Walker pleaded guilty to charges on Dec. 6, 2021.

A search warrant at Claybon's residence turned up ammunition. Claybon admitted to investigators she knew Vest-Walker was "flipping" firearms. A firearm was recovered from one of Claybon's relatives on Jan. 21, 2021. Claybon pleaded guilty on Nov. 5, 2021.

To date, Operation Scarecrow has resulted in three people sentenced to federal prison with three more awaiting sentencing.

Date of publication

Friday, April 22, 2022