By John Bacon, USA TODAY
An undercover operation in New York has resulted in the largestseizure of illegal firearms in city history -- and has provided moreammunition in the city's defense of its controversial stop-and-friskpolicy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday.
Policeseized 254 illegal guns and indicted 19 people, Bloomberg said. Theweapons included high-capacity assault weapons, a fully automaticmachine gun and handguns, "which are most typically the models of gunsused to commit violent crimes" in the city, Bloomberg said.
Twomajor defendants, operating independently, made numerous trips over thelast year between their home states and New York City, personallytransporting as many as 14 illegal firearms at a time using economy buslines operating in the vicinity of Manhattan's Chinatown, police said ina statement.
Sales generally took place within hoursof Walter Walker, 29, of Sanford, N.C., and Earl Campbell, 24, of RockHill, S.C., arriving in New York with a load of guns, police said.
Sixteenarrests were made in New York City, North Carolina and South Carolinain a series of apprehensions that began Aug. 2, the mayor's office said.The other three suspects were already in custody on unrelated charges.
Bloombergsaid court-authorized wiretaps helped investigators identifiy the gunsellers in North and South Carolina attempting to supply guns for thepurpose of reselling the weapons in New York City.
Bloombergalso provided a transcript of a comment attributed to suspect Campbellin a wiretap that indicated the city's controversial "stop and frisk"policy made selling weapons in the city more difficult: "I can't leaveuntil you come, cause I can't take them (guns) to my house, to my sideof town cause I'm in Brownsville (a section of Brooklyn). So we gotlike, whatchamacallit, stop and frisk."
Last week afederal judge ruled that the city's policy was unconstitutional becauseit disproportionately targets blacks and Hispanics. The city isappealing Judge Shira Scheindlin's decision, arguing the policy targetshigh-crime neighborhoods and rejecting Scheindlin's finding that thepolicy is a form of "indirect racial profiling."
Morethan half of the weapons seized were funneled to the city from NorthCarolina, with the remainder brought into New York City from SouthCarolina, Bloomberg said. Both states have relatively weak laws thatallow criminals and traffickers to easily obtain guns, he said.
Oneof the discount bus companies charges $60 one-way from Raleigh, N.C.,to New York. The fare is about half that charged by Greyhound, which,unlike the Chinatown buses, requires identification for boarding.
Walkermet two times last year with the middleman and the undercover officerat a Brooklyn recording studio to sell the undercover firearms, theindictment said. He also allegedly sold weapons to the undercoverofficer in April in Manhattan.
In January, the undercover met withCampbell and his girlfriend, who was carrying assault rifle parts inher zebra-striped suitcase, authorities said. The girlfriend tried toassemble the weapon using an instructional video she called up on hersmartphone. When she failed, the undercover bought the pieces anyway for$1,100.
One defendant, Jeremiah Devon McDougald, is accused ofrobbing someone at gunpoint while on the run from authorities in NorthCarolina, triggering an extensive manhunt. He was arrested on Aug. 7 andfaces additional charges in North Carolina in connection with therobbery, police said.
Another defendant who became a fugitive,Chris Hill, evaded arrest for nearly two weeks before he was arrestedAug. 14 in Sanford, N.C. Police said Hill had a gun when he wasarrested, and now faces additional charges as a felon in possession of afirearm in North Carolina.