(WJET/WFXP/YourErie.com)– Acting Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry, alongside Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, announced the dismantling of a major gun trafficking organization in coordination with local and federal law enforcement officials on Wednesday afternoon.
According to officials, the organization purchased 94 firearms and attempted to purchase 23 more in different counties across Pennsylvania to be resold throughout southeast Pennsylvania.
Eight people, all of Philadelphia, were arrested on dozens of felony charges related to “straw purchases” of firearms, illegally transferring firearms and operating a corrupt organization.
Those arrested include; Larry Williams, 40, responsible for directing the purchases of the firearms, selling the majority of the illegal firearms and was also involved in trafficking illegal drugs; Robert Cooper III, 23, purchased 41 firearms and attempted to purchase an additional eight firearms in less than two months; Ziair Stenson, 26, purchased 36 firearms and attempted to purchase an additional seven firearms; Malik Rowell-Jernigan, 24, purchased eight firearms and attempted to purchase an additional three firearms; Kevin Lester Logan, 24, purchased three firearms; Daynell Jones, 40, purchased three firearms; Zakayla S. Deshields, 22, purchased three firearms; Shadiid Smalley, 23, attempted to purchase five firearms.
The firearm purchases were all “straw purchases,” when a person with a clean background purchases a firearm specifically on behalf of a different person, who may not be able to purchase a firearm, to conceal the true owner. According to the release, the true owner of the firearm is often prohibited from legally purchasing a firearm, including convicted felons, domestic violence offenders, juveniles and individuals with mental illness.
The investigation began in June of 2022 by the Montgomery County Detective Bureau when law enforcement began following the numerous purchases of firearms by the defendants through the Electronic Record of Sale (EROS) system and through hard copies of ATF and Pennsylvania State Police forms at gun stores.
Data sharing and collaboration between agencies through programs such as Track and Trace helped officials uncover the scale and reach the operation had.
So far, law enforcement has recovered 29 of the 94 purchased firearms through search warrants, car stops or after the firearms were used in other violent crimes.
“Gun trafficking is a serious crime that endangers our communities since these illegal firearms are sold on to people who can’t buy their own guns. Many of these guns were recovered by law enforcement after being used in violent crimes, not only locally but traveling out of state, which is a threat to public safety and every law-abiding citizen,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele.
The defendants were arrested on various criminal charges, including felony counts of Corrupt Organizations, conspiracy and firearms charges related to illegal purchase and sales. Other charges include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, criminal use of communications facilities, materially false statements and multiple related offenses.
The following law enforcement organizations participated in this investigation: the Office of Attorney General’s Gun Violence Task Force; Montgomery County Detective Bureau’s Violent Crimes Unit; Bucks County District Attorney’s Drug Strike Force; U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Pennsylvania State Police; Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole; FBI Bucks Montgomery Safe Streets Task Force; U.S. Marshal’s Violent Crimes Fugitive Task Force; New York State Police and multiple police departments including Abington Township Police, Philadelphia Police, Middletown Township Police, Wolcott (Conn.) Police, Darby Police, New York City Police and the Pittsburgh Police.