A gun-trafficking ring in Virginia brought more than 200 legally purchased guns up the I-95 corridor to New York, where they unwittingly sold them to an undercover detective, according to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday.
The indictment of 627 counts charged 24 people, some of whom have violent criminal records and ties to the Bloods street gang, with conspiracy and illegal weapons sale and possession. In all, the authorities recovered 217 guns, including 41 assault weapons like AK-47s, AR-15s and a Thompson submachine gun.
In telephone conversations recorded by wiretap and played at a news conference in Downtown Brooklyn, where officials announced the indictment, some of those charged could be heard boasting about their roles as traffickers and mocking Virginia’s lax gun laws.
“We’re the big dogs,” Kenneth Threatts of North Chesterfield, Va., said in one recorded conversation in November. “We’re trafficking! You know what I’m saying?”
The acting Brooklyn district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, said the case highlighted the need for federal gun control to help stem the flow of thousands of illegal guns from the South coming up the I-95 corridor to New York, a stretch the authorities call the “Iron Pipeline.”
“When you hear a trafficker boasting about the weak gun laws in Virginia, it is crystal clear that this needs to be addressed,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “The type of unabashed trafficking that we have witnessed in this case must be addressed with stronger federal legislation and enforcement.”
The police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, said the case highlighted “the disturbing truth” about the proliferation of illegal guns in some of New York City’s most troubled communities. He noted that illegal guns were used to kill Officer Brian Moore in May 2015 and Officer Randolph Holder five months later.
The police were tipped to the Virginia operation last year by an unnamed Brooklyn man, and the defendants were charged following an eight-month investigation.
According to the indictment, 10 of the defendants and other straw purchasers bought guns at retailers and gun shows in Virginia and brought them by car or bus to Brooklyn and Manhattan, where buyers paid up to $1,200 for a handgun and $2,200 for an assault weapon, according to the indictment.
Mr. Gonzalez said profit was the ring’s main motive, and they used the proceeds of their sales to buy expensive clothes and jewelry.
“They are criminals who only care about only one thing, and that is making money, no matter how many lives they put in danger,” he said. “It’s outrageous.”
In a phone call in September, Antwan Walker, of Highland Springs, Va., said it was easy to buy guns in Virginia.
“There is no limits to how many guns I can go buy from the store, you know what I mean?” he said.
Most of the guns, the authorities said, were sold in Brooklyn neighborhoods like Fort Greene, Sunset Park and Boerum Hill. Some were brought to Bedford-Stuyvesant, where they were sold in the home of Aaron Perry, the only defendant who lives in New York, who the authorities say also acted as a lookout.
Twenty-two of the defendants are from Virginia, and they all are awaiting extradition to New York, where they are expected to be arraigned on Thursday in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the authorities said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times