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08/21/2013

Argentine national sentenced to 2 years in federal prison for illegally possessing a firearm which he used in a violent assault

He was also sentenced in state court on drug-related charges

MADISON, Wis. — An Argentine national, who pistol-whipped his neighbor in a violent attack, was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for illegally possessing a firearm.

This sentence resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Madison Police Department.

Esteban Bernard, 27, of Madison, Wis., was sentenced Aug. 20 by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley to 24 months in federal prison for being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm and being an illegal drug user in possession of a firearm. Bernard pleaded guilty to these charges June 18.

Bernard, who was in the United States illegally, is expected to be deported to Argentina after he completes his prison sentence.

On July 29, 2012, Bernard, mistakenly believing that his neighbor had stolen money from him, approached his neighbor's Vilas Avenue apartment with several other males. Bernard instructed one of his companions, "Get my gun."

Within moments, Bernard entered the apartment, pointed a gun at his neighbor and demanded his money. He racked the slide on his semi-automatic Makarov pistol and told his neighbor that he was going to die. The neighbor's girlfriend, believing that she would also be shot, fled to the back bedroom. Bernard then repeatedly pistol-whipped his neighbor's head.

Bernard left the apartment by a back door, but then re-entered the apartment through a side door moments later and beat the neighbor over the head again. He then left and his neighbor retreated to the back bedroom where his girlfriend was on the phone with police. When police and medical personnel arrived, the victim was bleeding profusely and was transported to the hospital where he required staples to close his scalp lacerations.

Police encountered Bernard, who was wearing a blood-stained T-shirt, in the vicinity of the apartment building. When Bernard was arrested and placed in handcuffs, he said, "Go ahead and search me, I'm not a criminal or anything."

Bernard no longer had the pistol because he had given it to a friend to take it away in his car. The friend was stopped within a few hundred feet of the apartment building, and a blood-stained Makarov pistol was found under the seat of the car. A search warrant was executed and a second pistol was found in Bernard's apartment, as well as a small-scale marijuana-grow operation. He claimed that the marijuana was for his own use. Fingerprint and DNA evidence linked Bernard to both weapons.

Bernard was also charged in state court and pleaded guilty to charges relating to drug possession, trespass of a dwelling and battery, and received a sentence of five months in jail.

At sentencing in federal court, Judge Conley noted that Bernard had squandered opportunities to make a productive life in the United States since moving to Wisconsin at the age of 14. Judge Conley took note of the numerous convictions for domestic violence that Bernard had accumulated over the years. He urged Bernard to obtain any substance abuse treatment available to him in prison before he was returned to Argentina.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Burke, Western District of Wisconsin, prosecuted this case.