Montgomery County authorities on Thursday announced the dismantling of a bustling gun trafficking network allegedly run by three Philadelphia-area teenagers, whom they accused of putting dozens of illegally obtained firearms on the streets — some of which have since been linked to shootings.
The leaders of the group, all of whom were either too young to buy guns themselves or were barred from doing so because they had felony records, paid straw buyers from $150 to $200 a day to purchase the weapons, sometimes three or four at a time, Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele said.
In just July and August, authorities said, the group illegally obtained at least 44 guns purchased from shops across the region. Some were to fill orders submitted over text messages and social media, prosecutors said, while others appear to have been sold off on Instagram.
In all, prosecutors have charged nine adults and five juveniles with playing roles in the scheme. But only six of the weapons have been recovered, including one linked to a shooting in Cheltenham and four more seized as a result of search warrants in Philadelphia.
“These illegal guns are used in crimes, and then they’re resold again and again on the streets,” Steele said. “We may never know the true extent of the damage these defendants have done and the danger they created in our communities.”
Flanked by Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Philadelphia FBI chief Mike J. Driscoll, Steele announced the arrests on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown — just blocks away from a home that was described in court papers as one of the central hubs of the network.
There, investigators said, a 17-year-old, not identified because he is a juvenile, took orders from interested buyers, directed straw purchasers and coordinated buys with the other alleged leaders of the group — Terrence “2Raw” Barker, 19, of Philadelphia, and Mikal “Kal” Scott, 18, of Cheltenham.
The 17-year-old even recruited his 14-year-old sibling, who was also charged but not named Thursday.
“Take the Beretta to the crib while Mommy not there,” he told his younger sibling in one text message exchange quoted in court filings. “Leave it out back.”
Steele said Thursday that investigators first discovered the network after the 17-year-old showed up at Suburban Community Hospital in Norristown on Aug. 10 with a gunshot wound to his upper left arm. Investigators believe the injury may have been accidentally self-inflicted.
But while searching the teen’s home, they found gun boxes linked to firearms purchased by another accused conspirator in the scheme, Anthony McCrary, who did not live there.
After checking the state’s electronic database of gun sales, they linked McCrary to what they described Thursday as an “alarming number” of purchases from stores in Montgomery and Bucks Counties and Philadelphia.
Text messages found on the 17-year-old’s phone allegedly detailed orders he sent to McCrary, 23, of Philadelphia, as he visited each store, sometimes buying more than one weapon at once and stopping at multiple gun shops in a day.
In all, McCrary purchased 35 of the guns trafficked by the network between July 3 and Aug. 27, according to the criminal complaint filed in his case.
The others charged as either straw buyers or end receivers of the illegally purchased weapons included: Demetrius “Meech” Huggins Jr., 21; Shaireese Liles, 21; Jamil Brown, 18; John McDonald, 21; and Clarence Codada, 18, all of Philadelphia, and Ashon “Sandwich” Pearson, 23, of Norristown. In addition to the 17-year-old and his 14-year-old sibling, two other juveniles have also been charged.
The adult defendants face charges related to the straw purchase of firearms, an offense which carries a mandatory minimum five-year sentence.
It was not immediately clear from court filings whether the defendants had retained attorneys.