NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A pair of gunrunners smuggled firearms into New York City by hiding them in luggage they carried on discount buses offering cheap fares and lesser odds of getting caught, authorities said Monday.
The men were captured in a police sting that netted 254 weapons in 45 transactions since last year – the largest total from a gun case in recent memory.
The alleged smugglers, Walter Walker and Earl Campbell, were among 19 people arrested in New York, North Carolina and South Carolina as the result of a 10-month investigation.
As WCBS 880′s Irene Cornell reported, the huge gun case began as a narcotics investigation in Brooklyn.
Also charged was an operator of a Brooklyn music recording studio where authorities said some of the deals took place.
“Today we have charged criminal opportunists who sought to take advantage of the nation’s patchwork of conflicting gun regulation to line their own pockets and promote mayhem in New York City,” said Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
Officials announced the arrests Monday, citing it as another example of a persistent black market in which guns from the South can sell for three times their original price in the city.
“New York is the safest big city in the nation, but year after year, illegal guns flow into our city from states that don’t have common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “There is no doubt that the seizure of these guns – the largest bust in the city’s history – has saved lives.”
The case, built largely on the work of an undercover NYPD investigator and cellphone wiretaps, was a spinoff of a drug investigation in Brooklyn. On one of those wiretaps Campbell was overheard discussing Stop-And-Frisk, CBS 2′s Amy Dardashtian reported.
“I can’t take them to my house. To my side of town in Brownsville. We got like, whatchamacall it? Stop-And-Frisk,” he said.
Authorities said they discovered that Walker, 29, of Sanford, N.C. and Campbell, 24, of Rock Hill, S.C., were trafficking guns separately but using the same middleman in New York City.
Walker and Campbell were arrested earlier this month in their home states, authorities said.
The two tapped a variety of suppliers in their hometowns, authorities said. Some guns were obtained on the black market while others were bought from gun dealers using straw buyers to get around one-gun-a-month restrictions.
“The problem is that the gun laws passed now, so it’s like now I can only buy a gun from a gun store every 30 days,” Campbell complained in one conversation, according to an indictment. “So I had to, like, pay different people to keep
buying different guns.”
Before heading to New York, Campbell would obtain photos of the guns his suppliers were offering and send the images to the undercover officer, authorities said.
Both defendants would travel to the city carrying a dozen or more handguns, rifles and shotguns in bags that were stowed in luggage compartments of Chinatown-based carriers also favored by drug couriers, authorities said.
One of 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.
Walker met two times last year with the middleman and the undercover officer at the Brooklyn recording studio to sell the undercover firearms, the indictment said.
He also allegedly sold weapons to the undercover officer in April in Manhattan near the intersection of Grand and Chrystie Street.
In January, the undercover officer met with Campbell and his girlfriend, who was carrying assault rifle parts in her zebra-striped suitcase, authorities said.
The girlfriend tried to assemble the weapon using an instructional video she called up on her smartphone, authorities said. When she failed, the undercover officer bought the pieces anyway for $1,100.
The guns sold for $160,000 according to the 552 count indictment.
Walker and Campbell each face multiple counts of criminal sale of a firearm and other charges.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
- Spiral Theatre Studio Opens Eco-Friendly Space In Manhattan
- Wintery Mix Could Create Slick Conditions Around Tri-State Area
- Report: Waitress Returns Donations As Questions Surface About Viral Receipt
- Nearly 100 Firearms Collected At Staten Island Gun Buyback
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)