The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS -

gins Jr., 21, and Shaireese Liles, 21, all of Philadel­phia, pur­chased mul­ti­ple firearms be­tween July and Au­gust on be­half of a gun traf­fick­ing net­work led by Ter­rence Barker, 19, of Philadel­phia, Mikal Scott, 18, of the 7900 block of Rolling Green Road, Chel­tenham, and a 17-year-old Norristown male.

McCrary pur­chased 35 firearms, Hug­gins pur­chased five firearms and Liles pur­chased four firearms via straw pur­chases at fed­er­ally li­censed gun deal­ers, al­legedly on be­half of the gun traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion. The pur­chases were made at seven fed­er­ally li­censed firearm deal­ers in Mont­gomery, Bucks and Philadel­phia coun­ties, Steele said.

A straw pur­chase oc­curs when a per­son with a clean back­ground pur­chases firearms on be­half of an­other per­son to con­ceal the true own­er­ship of the firearm. Those who are un­able to le­gally pur­chase firearms in­clude con­victed felons, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence of­fend­ers, ju­ve­niles and men­tally ill in­di­vid­u­als.

Ashon Jared Pear­son, 23, of the 1400 block of Arch Street, Norristown, Jamil Brown, 19, of Philadel­phia, John McDon­ald, 21, of Philadel­phia, and Clarence Co­dada, 18, of Philadel­phia, also were charged with al­legedly par­tic­i­pat­ing in the gun traf­fick­ing net­work. Four other ju­ve­nile males who ranged in age from 14 to 17 also face charges.

Detectives are in the process of lo­cat­ing McDon­ald and Scott, of­fi­cials said. Any­one with in­for­ma­tion about their where­abouts should call the Mont­gomery County De­tec­tive Bureau at 610-278-3368 or the Norristown Po­lice De­part­ment at 610-270-0977.

“This gun traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion in­cluded ju­ve­niles as ac­tive mem­bers. The ju­ve­niles were not only armed by this or­ga­ni­za­tion but were an in­te­gral part of the over­all oper­a­tion,” detectives wrote in the ar­rest af­fi­davit.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion had mul­ti­ple mem­bers per­form­ing a va­ri­ety of roles, in­clud­ing pur­chas­ing and mar­ket­ing or sales of the firearms.

“Of­ten­times, some of the mem­bers of the gun traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion ac­com­pa­nied the straw pur­chasers to the gun stores and helped choose the weapons,” Steele said.

“Af­ter the straw pur­chasers filled out the fed­eral and state pa­per­work and lied on it, vow­ing that this gun was for their own use, they walk out of the gun store, they hand over the gun or guns to other mem­bers of the gun traf­fick­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion who im­me­di­ately sold it, arm­ing the peo­ple the law says can­not have a gun,” Steele added..

The charges lodged against all or some of the al­leged par­tic­i­pants in­clude cor­rupt or­ga­ni­za­tions, con­spir­acy, deal­ing in pro­ceeds of un­law­ful ac­tiv­i­ties and il­le­gal sale or trans­fer of firearms. Bail was set for those charged and their pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings are pend­ing.

“We may never know the true ex­tent of the dam­age from these 44 il­le­gal guns since guns ob­tained us­ing a straw pur­chaser are typ­i­cally im­me­di­ately resold to peo­ple who can’t le­gally buy a gun for them­selves. Then af­ter an il­le­gal firearm is used in a crime, it’s resold to other felons and the dam­age grows. It’s a domino ef­fect,” Steele said.

Steele re­vealed only six of the 44 firearms have been re­cov­ered, in­clud­ing one that was linked to a shoot­ing in­ci­dent in Chel­tenham and an­other seized dur­ing a traf­fic stop of a ju­ve­nile in Abing­ton.

Thirty-eight of the guns re­main on the streets.

“That’s the dan­ger of a straw pur­chase. We may never know the true ex­tent of the dam­age that these de­fen­dants and the ju­ve­niles have done and the dan­ger that they have cre­ated in our com­mu­ni­ties,” Steele said.

Steele urged any­one who may have knowl­edge about the where­abouts of the guns to con­tact au­thor­i­ties.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan on Aug. 9, when county detectives were rou­tinely re­view­ing pa­per­work re­lated to mul­ti­ple gun pur­chases by in­di­vid­u­als and no­ticed McCrary’s al­leged pur­chases of a large num­ber of guns from li­censed deal­ers, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers.

The fol­low­ing day, on Aug. 10, Norristown po­lice re­sponded to a shoot­ing in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a 17-yearold male and a search of the res­i­dence where the shoot­ing oc­curred un­cov­ered two gun boxes that had been pur­chased on the day of the shoot­ing by McCrary, who did not live at the res­i­dence. Nei­ther gun had been re­ported stolen, in­di­cat­ing a pos­si­ble straw pur­chase, au­thor­i­ties al­leged.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors sub­se­quently learned that McCrary some­times vis­ited more than one gun store in a day and bought mul­ti­ple firearms at the same time, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion used sur­veil­lance, cell­phone and so­cial me­dia anal­y­sis, search war­rants and reviews of fed­eral firearms forms to un­cover the par­tic­i­pants in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, ac­cord­ing to court pa­pers.

The Elec­tronic Record of Sale sys­tem, part of the Penn­syl­va­nia Of­fice of At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Track and Trace Ini­tia­tive, was a key tool used by in­ves­ti­ga­tors to track the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s il­le­gal firearms pur­chases. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro joined Steele at the news con­fer­ence.

“Our job is ob­vi­ously not over. This is just one step in the process. We should keep ex­pand­ing the use of elec­tronic records and dou­ble down on this kind of tar­geted, datadriven and col­lab­o­ra­tive law en­force­ment work to pre­vent sense­less shoot­ings and vi­o­lence here in Norristown and ev­ery­where through­out south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia,” Shapiro said.

Norristown Po­lice Chief Mark Tal­bot and Michael J. Driscoll, spe­cial agent in charge of FBI Philadel­phia, also at­tended the news brief­ing.

“We know too well that gun vi­o­lence is a scourge of our com­mu­nity. It dev­as­tates our neigh­bor­hoods and fam­i­lies. Shut­ting down these straw pur­chases is vi­tal to re­duc­ing

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Mega Mil­lions (Sept. 22): gun vi­o­lence and mak­ing the streets safer and most im­por­tantly, sav­ing lives,” Driscoll said. “The take down of this or­ga­ni­za­tion is quite sim­ply a vic­tory for our com­mu­nity.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion was led by the Mont­gomery County De­tec­tive Bureau’s Vi­o­lent Crime Unit and the Norristown Po­lice De­part­ment.

The Penn­syl­va­nia Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s Gun Vi­o­lence Task Force, the FBI’s Bucks and Mont­gomery County Safe Streets Task Force, U.S. Mar­shals, Chel­tenham, Abing­ton, Philadel­phia, Warmin­ster and Ben­salem po­lice de­part­ments, Penn­syl­va­nia State Po­lice and the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives as­sisted with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The case will be pros­e­cuted by As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney Kath­leen McLaugh­lin, cap­tain of the district at­tor­ney’s firearms unit.

“Our job is ob­vi­ously not over. This is just one step in the process. We should keep ex­pand­ing the use of elec­tronic records and dou­ble down on this kind of tar­geted, data-driven and col­lab­o­ra­tive law en­force­ment work to pre­vent sense­less shoot­ings and vi­o­lence here in Norristown and ev­ery­where through­out south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.” — Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Shapiro

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