Niles man gets prison time on weapons charges

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, April 25, 2023

NILES — A Niles man with an extensive criminal record was sentenced to prison on gun-related charges.

Ernesto Santiago, 20, of Niles, pleaded guilty to carrying a concealed weapon and firearms-possessing a device to convert a semi-automatic weapon to an automatic weapon and was sentenced to 23 months to five years in prison on the concealed weapon charge and credit for 102 days served on the other charge. 

He has credit for 102 days served on the prison sentence as well. He must pay $256 in fines and costs and forfeit his weapon. He recently received another prison sentence for a probation violation. 

The incident occurred Sept. 30, 2022 in Niles. Other charges dismissed included possession of a firearm by a felon, two counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony and being a habitual offender. 

Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky said he was concerned that Santiago has three prior felonies that all deal with weapons.

“He’s ramping it up now by converting a semi-automatic to an automatic weapon,” he said.     

Defense attorney Scott Sanford said Santiago carries guns because he has a “genuine fear” of dangers in the community. 

Judge Smith said that fears over a dangerous community don’t excuse people from the criminal penalties associated with weapons charges.

“While you may think it’s necessary, you have to follow the law like anyone else,” she said. “There is no exception for where someone lives and how dangerous it may be.”