Cops Make Largest Gun Bust in NYC History
The New York Police Department on Aug. 19 announced the confiscation of 254 guns that were smuggled into the city from the Carolinas on Chinatown buses, marking the biggest firearm bust in the force’s history.
The weapons were purchased by an undercover police officer over a period of months.
A Brooklyn hip-hop artist may have blown up the plot when he posted pictures of weapons and cash on Instagram. Rapper Matthew Best was arrested along with 18 other men in connection to the smuggling ring,
Best is accused of helping Walter Walker and Earl Campbell sell firearms that they brought up from North and South Carolina hidden in luggage stowed on the discount buses.
In one incident, Campbell’s girlfriend smuggled a broken-down assault rifle in a zebra-striped suitcase, according to the AP. She then unwittingly sold the gun pieces to the undercover cop after she failed to put the gun back together by following YouTube instructions.
“There is no doubt that the seizure of these guns – the largest bust in the city’s history – has saved lives,’’ New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “For that reason, every New Yorker, in every part of our city, owes a debt of thanks to all those involved in this investigation.”
According to reports, authorities have phone records that show the gun dealers in the South knew that their wares were headed up to the big city.
“Perhaps the two most disturbing aspects of the gun-trafficking operation were the simplicity of the business model, and the complete indifference of the gun suppliers to the mayhem their actions would cause here in New York City,” an investigator told the AP. “The marketing strategy was buy low, sell high and keep a low profile.”
Colorful Fact Pattern
The story of gangsters, rappers and elaborate smuggling schemes almost sounds like the plot of a movie. “It’s a colorful fact pattern, that’s for sure,” says Jim Keneally, an attorney with New York firm Harris, O’Brien.
However, with the arrests comes the onset of reality. New York is one of the most restrictive states when it comes to gun laws, with strict requirements as to who can sell and possess firearms. New York City also has its own ordinances covering sale and possession. The highly-regulated nature of the industry made it very profitable to smuggle guns into the city, where they sold for up to three times their original price, but the alleged perpetrators could also pay a steep price for their caper.
“Like in many jurisdictions, when you have this number of weapons being sold illegally the potential maximum penalties are pretty high,” Keneally says, noting that from the initial charges it looks like the defendants could be facing up to 25 years behind bars.
However, their prospects could get even worse. “I have seen cases where city police have arrested people on gun sale charges and then at some point in the prosecution some or all of the defendants get referred over to the feds for federal prosecution,” the lawyer notes. “For example, to the extent that people have prior convictions, there are federal statutes that provide for penalties for being a felon in possession of a firearm. If you have prior felonies there are also enhancements for illegal sale of firearms.”
The lesson, as always: Don’t post incriminating evidence on Instagram.