FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A high-volume gun trafficking ring illegally brought weapons into New York using the luggage compartments of Chinatown buses, authorities said Wednesday.
Investigators from the New York Attorney General’s Office and the NYPD seized more than 70 guns ranging in value from several hundred dollars up to $1,600 on the street during the months-long "Operation Midnight Run," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“By keeping these deadly weapons off the streets of New York this operation has saved lives. What you see here are illegal guns that will be never be used to rob or murder innocent New Yorkers,” he said.
Authorities said the ring, led by Brooklyn resident Natasha Harris, 33, and financed by Quincy Adams, 35, also from Brooklyn, made several trips to Florida to purchase the weapons at gun shows.
The ring then transported them in unmarked luggage placed on discount buses headed for Chinatown, they said.
Although the ring used various bus lines during the operation, authorities only identified one by name — the Star Line bus company, located at 95 Canal St., which the gun traffickers used several times, they said.
An employee at Star Line said she did not know or hear anything about the trafficking.
Once in the city, the ring then resold the firearms — which ranged from .22 caliber pistols to assault weapons — for three to four times the purchase amount, Schneiderman said.
The guns were sold mostly in apartments located in the in 75th Precinct, which covers East New York, according to the NYPD.
Authorities first got wind of the ring last spring, Scheiderman said, declining to say how exactly it came to their attention.
From May to November, an undercover investigator purchased 33 guns from the ring in 11 separate face-to-face transactions conducted in Brooklyn, according to authorities.
The New Jersey State police, working with the “Midnight Run” investigators, also seized a purple suitcase containing 33 guns as well as one of the ring’s couriers on Oct. 27 after stopping an overnight Star Line bus at the Joyce Kilmer rest area near East Brunswick on the New Jersey Turnpike, Schneiderman said.
“We did this in order to do it in a private, quiet place and not on the crowded streets of Chinatown,” he said.
Approximately 18 of the guns seized had their serial numbers filed off, which would make the weapons untraceable, according to authorities.
In addition to Harris and Adams, six other individuals were indicted at Brooklyn Supreme Court Wednesday, according to authorities.
Brooklyn residents Octavio Batista, 25, and Michelle Cantres, 24, along with Queens resident Deryl Springs, 36, were identified as the gun resellers, according to authorities. Michael Liburd, 24, was the Florida straw purchaser while 32-year-old Draxel Clarke and an unidentified woman were pegged as the Florida-to-New York couriers.
Altogether, they were charged with 196 counts of conspiracy, criminal possession and criminal sale of firearms. If convicted, seven of the eight defendants could serve up to 25 years in prison, authorities said.