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Dozens of fugitives arrested in predawn raids

“Why are these type of weapons in our city? No war is going on," said Philadelphia Sheriff Rochelle Bilal.

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal announcing the arrests of 37 fugitives in a multi-jurisdiction, four-day, anti-crime sweep.
Sheriff Rochelle Bilal announcing the arrests of 37 fugitives in a multi-jurisdiction, four-day, anti-crime sweep.Read moreMensah M. Dean/ Staff

In the predawn hours over four days this week, law enforcement officials arrested more than three dozen violent Philadelphia fugitives and confiscated high-powered firearms, ammunition, and drugs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, officials announced Friday.

Operation Priority Takedown, headed by the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, targeted 176 fugitives wanted on warrants for crimes as serious as homicide, Sheriff Rochelle Bilal said. While most eluded capture, she said, the arrests were still significant.

“Thirty-seven is better than zero. One gun is better than none,” she said at the Philadelphia Family Court building in Center City, where she was joined by local, state, and federal law enforcement officers and officials in announcing the results of the sweep.

Standing in front of a table holding confiscated guns and ammunition, Bilal pledged more sweeps.

“These are very high-powered artillery weapons, and this is why this city keeps fighting for gun control,” she said. “Why are these type of weapons in our city? No war is going on. Why? We want to find out how they’re bringing these guns in so we can stop that.”

The weapons and contraband recovered included one AR-15 rifle with four fully loaded magazines, one double-barreled shotgun loaded with 10 rounds, one 9mm handgun loaded with 13 rounds, another 9mm handgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, 13 jars of marijuana, and 87 marijuana plants worth $400,000.

Bilal, who was sworn in as sheriff in January of last year, said that while her office’s Fugitive Warrant Unit works 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a mass sweep like this week’s was needed given the rising tide of gun violence.

As of Friday, the city had recorded 319 homicides, which is 29% higher than at the same time last year, while nearly 1,300 people have been shot, a 24% increase from this time last year, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.

Nine law enforcement departments participated in the raids including the Philadelphia Police Department, the sheriff’s offices in Chester, Bucks, and Delaware Counties, the FBI, and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Chief Deputy Vernon Muse, of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, said the raids began at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and ended at 6:30 a.m. Friday.

No officers were injured, and the arrests went smoothly, he said. The fugitives were wanted on charges that included homicide, aggravated assault, strangulation, burglary, robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime, Muse said.

In an unrelated operation Thursday, 11 members of the Money Making Legends gang were arrested for various shootings and other acts of violence in the communities of Folcroft, Sharon Hill, Collingdale, and Darby Borough, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said.

The investigation was conducted by a joint task force of officers and detectives from the Sharon Hill, Darby Borough, and Folcroft police departments.

”I want these arrests to be a warning to those who engage in these senseless crimes. If you commit violent crime in Delaware County, law enforcement will use every resource to bring you to justice,” Stollsteimer said.