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Post date: November 19 2014

A.G. Schneiderman & Commissioner Bratton Announce Takedown Of Brooklyn-Based Gun Trafficking Ring

“Operation Midnight Run” Reveals Weapons Purchased at Florida Gun Shows Allegedly Hidden Beneath Chinatown Buses for Transport to New York City

Schneiderman: Gun-Trafficking Rings Fuel The Epidemic Of Gun Violence That Is Killing Children And Families Across New York And The Country

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton today announced the takedown of a high-volume gun trafficking ring that allegedly funneled firearms from Florida to New York City, often beneath Chinatown buses.  According to the 196-count felony indictment made public today, the investigative team seized more than 70 illegal guns bought at gun shows in Florida, many of which were then resold in New York for up to four times their original price. As a result of the investigation, known as “Operation Midnight Run,” eight members of the ring were charged today with numerous counts of conspiracy, criminal possession and criminal sale of firearms. If convicted, seven of the eight defendants face up to 25 years in prison. 

“Gun-trafficking rings fuel the epidemic of gun violence that is killing children and families across New York and the United States,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “We must do absolutely everything in our power to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of criminals. We have strong gun control laws in New York State and sensible, cooperative solutions like the Model Gun Show Procedures to ensure background checks on anyone purchasing a firearm at a New York gun show.  Preventing criminals from circumventing these measures by illegally shipping dangerous weapons into our communities is literally a matter of life or death.”

New York City Police Commissioner William J. Brattonsaid, “This investigation demonstrates the demand for illegal guns in our city and the continued commitment of the New York City Police Department and the New York Attorney General’s Office to intercept these weapons before they are used to commit violent crimes.  Thanks to these collaborative efforts, we very likely prevented a life from being taken by one of these firearms.” 

The joint investigation, led by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force and the NYPD’s Firearms Investigation Unit, began this past spring. According to the indictment, the ring was led by Natasha Harris – who regularly traveled from her Brooklyn apartment to gun shows in Florida to purchase guns for resale – and Quincy Adams, who helped finance the ring’s purchases and personally transported some of the weapons back to New York City. 

Earlier this year, an undercover investigator began purchasing guns directly from the alleged ringleader and, subsequently, electronic surveillance was used to monitor the ring’s activity. The surveillance revealed that ring members communicated regularly, often sending each other text messages that included photographs of the guns for sale. In less than three months, an undercover investigator purchased 33 guns from the ring in 11 separate face-to-face transactions conducted in Brooklyn. The undercover led the defendants to believe that he intended to resell the weapons to his own customers.

Between May and November of this year, the two ringleaders and other defendants made several trips from New York City to Florida. Harris and others, including a Florida-based straw-buyer, would allegedly purchase multiple guns from multiple shows. The ring would then transport the weapons back to New York primarily by stowing them beneath commercial buses – including the Star Line bus company – bound for Manhattan’s Chinatown, according to the indictment. 

For example, as alleged in documents made public today, the investigation revealed that on October 24th, Harris drove from Brooklyn to Florida. Over the next two days, she and some of her co-defendants (along with Harris’s grandmother and two young children) attended the Orlando Gun Show and Bunnell Gun Show, purchasing several guns at each show. On the afternoon of October 26th, Harris and Octavio Batista met the ring’s female courier at the Orlando Bus Depot (5144 West Colonial Drive, Orlando) and placed a purple suitcase full of firearms they’d purchased in the luggage compartment of an overnight Star Line bus #9597, headed to Chinatown (95 Canal Street, Manhattan). The courier then boarded the bus. On the morning of October 27th, the New Jersey State Police, working in coordination with ‘Midnight Run’ investigators, stopped the bus at the New Jersey Turnpike’s Joyce Kilmer rest area (in East Brunswick, N.J.) and seized the purple suitcase, which contained 33 firearms.

Firearms sales charged in the indictment ran the gamut from .22 caliber pistols to assault weapons. Other guns allegedly sold by the ring include:

  • Mossberg .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  • Sig Sauer 9mm semi-automatic pistol
  • Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol
  • Smith & Wesson 9mm semi-automatic pistol
  • Rock Island Armory .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  • Taurus .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  • Beretta .40 semi-automatic pistol
  • Smith & Wesson .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  • Steyr 9mm semi-automatic pistol
  • Hi-Point .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  • Taurus .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol (stainless steel) 
  • Keltec 9mm semi-automatic pistol 
  • SCCY 9mm semi-automatic pistol
  • Lorcin .380 caliber semi-automatic pistol
  • North American Arms .22 caliber revolver
  • Charter Arms .38 caliber revolver
  • Colt .38 caliber revolver
  • Interarms .357 caliber pistol
  • Rossi .22 caliber revolver, among dozens of others. 

Approximately 18 of the guns seized had the serial numbers filed off, making the weapons untraceable. Investigators are in the process of tracing the other weapons. 

“Operation Midnight Run” highlights the lax procedures at gun shows across the country and the need for New York’s Model Gun Show Procedures to be adopted by other states. For example, Florida law requires anyone purchasing a gun at a Florida gun show to be a resident of that state. On numerous occasions, Natasha Harris – a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y. – was able to purchase multiple guns at Florida shows because no background check was performed. 

The Model Procedures grew out of an undercover investigation conducted by Attorney General Schneiderman's office in 2011, which found that private sales of guns — made without background checks — were a common occurrence at gun shows. After that sting operation, the Attorney General's Office and several gun show operators worked together to develop the procedures, which balance the rights of sportsmen and gun collectors with the need to protect the public from the sale of guns to people who would not be eligible to legitimately purchase guns at those shows. 

The Model Procedures go beyond the requirements of New York’s gun show laws, including a process that ensures all guns brought into the gun shows are tagged so that, upon exiting, the operator can determine whether guns were sold and that a proper background check was performed. Today, nearly every gun show in New York State employs Model Gun Show Procedures voluntarily.

The indictment unsealed today charges the following defendants:

  • Natasha Harris, 33, of Brooklyn
  • Quincy Adams, 35, of Brooklyn
  • Octavio Batista, 25, of Brooklyn
  • Michelle Cantres, 24, of Brooklyn
  • Draxel Clarke, 32, of Brooklyn
  • Deryl Springs, 36, of Queens
  • Michael Liburd, 24, of Florida
  • Unidentified Female Courier

The charges against the defendants are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The Attorney General would like to thank Kings County District Attorney Kenneth Thompson and his office for their cooperation with this case.

The investigation was directed by OCTF Investigator Brian Fleming and Supervising Investigator Paul Grzegorski, with the assistance of OCTF  Investigator Mary Laspina and OCTF Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta, and by Detective Ted Wendling of the NYPD’s Firearms Investigation Unit under the supervision of Lieutenant Michael Jennings, Captain Robert Van Houten, commanding officer of the Firearms Investigation Unit, Captain Brian Gill, commanding officer of the Firearm's Suppression Division, and the overall supervision of Chief Thomas P. Purtell, Organized Crime Control Bureau, NYPD.  Chief Dominick Zarrella is the head of the Attorney General’s Investigations Bureau. The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Diego Hernandez.  Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff runs the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force. The Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice is Kelly Donovan.

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