9 Charged With Trafficking Dozens of Guns to New York From Georgia – The New York Times


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Amid increased federal attention to gun violence, officials announced a bust that they said included the seizure of a weapon used to shoot at the police.

Audrey Strauss, United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, outlined details of a gun-trafficking operation on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Credit...Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Benjamin Weiser

The guns were bought from legitimate dealers in Georgia before being brought north, making their way to New York City by bus and rental car, as traffickers concealed their cargo and referred to the firearms with code names, the authorities said on Wednesday.

In one case, they said, the traffickers used the name “Rondo” — a reference to Rajon Rondo, an NBA player who traditionally wore the jersey number 9 — as a reference to a nine-millimeter caliber firearm.

Most of the guns made it to customers in New York, the authorities said, including one that was fired at police officers in the Bronx.

The revelations came as federal prosecutors and other officials announced a takedown of what they described as an interstate gun trafficking ring in which defendants in New York, who had received orders for specific guns from customers here and elsewhere, obtained at least 87 firearms over a recent eight-month period through a so-called straw purchaser in Georgia. Eight men and one woman were charged in the trafficking ring, the authorities said.

The announcement came two weeks after the Justice Department said it was assigning five federal strike forces to work to curb gun violence by disrupting illegal arms trafficking in key regions across the country where such crime has surged in recent months.

Illegal weapons have long played a crucial role in gun violence in New York City, where the authorities are trying to reverse a sharp rise in shootings that began during the pandemic. As of Aug. 1, New York City has recorded 900 shootings, compared with 777 at the same time last year, a 16 percent increase and the most for the time of year since 2003, according to Police Department data.

Gun violence in the city had been near record low levels in the years before the virus’s arrival but rose sharply in 2020. This year, decreases recorded in June and July — months when shootings typically peak — have offered a glimmer of hope that the violence is retreating, though shootings this year have already surpassed the total for all of 2019.

“We want to do everything we can to break up the well-worn trafficking routes that have too often allowed guns to be diverted to the illegal market and channeled into communities, communities like New York,” said Lisa O. Monaco, the deputy United States attorney general, at a news conference in Manhattan.

Ms. Monaco noted that the case announced on Wednesday resulted from an investigation that predated the strike force effort, but that it was the kind of collaborative effort critical to addressing violent crime.

The strike forces, including one in New York, would be led by United States attorneys who would collaborate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, police departments and other authorities, the Justice Department said.

Audrey Strauss, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the gun trafficking operation relied on Duvaughn Wilson, the buyer in Georgia, who was charged in the indictment.

In his role as a straw purchaser, Ms. Strauss said, Mr. Wilson “pretended that he was buying guns for himself when he was, in fact, illegally buying them for the New York defendants.”

Mr. Wilson used his own name to purchase the guns from at least six licensed sellers in Georgia but signed forms attesting that he was not buying them on behalf of other people, the indictment said.

Mr. Wilson has pleaded not guilty; his lawyer declined to comment.

The indictment charged that one of the defendants placing orders for the guns, Courtney Schloss, and in many cases the people he resold them to, were members of a Brooklyn-based group of aspiring rappers known as the Blixky Gang. Mr. Schloss also pleaded not guilty; his lawyer could not be reached for comment.

Members of the group have produced music videos that appear on YouTube and other social media platforms, the indictment said. And while its members sometimes resold guns they obtained from the ring, some kept a stash of the firearms for their own use, including in the production of music videos, the government alleged.

One such video, called “Word to Folk” and made in October, was uploaded to a popular video streaming platform and showed participants holding firearms, many of which appeared to be guns bought by Mr. Wilson, the buyer in Georgia, the indictment said.

The indictment alleges that in moving guns by bus from Georgia to New York, the defendants in one instance placed them at the bottom of a backpack and concealed them with T-shirts.

On another trip, in December, the indictment said, Mr. Schloss advised another of the defendants that law enforcement authorities often stopped buses just after crossing state lines — “so if they find something, it’s federal.”

The indictment notes that between last October and July, the authorities seized at least eight of the guns bought by Mr. Wilson, during law enforcement actions in New York, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia.

It says that in one case in February, the police seized a .22-caliber handgun after a fleeing suspect discharged it three times at officers in the Bronx. Mr. Wilson bought the gun in Georgia last September.

And last month, the authorities seized four firearms, including a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber pistol, while executing a search warrant in connection with the arrest of a man wanted for a killing in Brooklyn, the indictment said. Mr. Wilson also bought that gun in Georgia last September, the indictment added.

Ashley Southall and Ashley Wong contributed reporting.

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