Twenty-two people were charged in 11 separate indictments Thursday in one of the largest illegal gun-trafficking investigations by local and federal law enforcement officials.
Authorities allegedly seized over 70 firearms, including sawed-off shotguns and military-style semi-automatic rifles, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, which they claim were sold from several homes and storage facilities in the city's Kensington section. The indictments allege that some of the purchases took place out in the open almost like a drive-thru.
The investigation, which centered on the city's Kensington section, was conducted by the Violent Crime Reduction Partnership – an effort between local and federal law enforcement that began on June 4. It involved surveillance and numerous purchases by undercover officers.
Officials said the bust will help put a dent in the violent crime plaguing the city.
"To bring in extra personnel – the federal government – and use the federal system to have increased penalties is an enormous amount of help in the city," said Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn. "When you have an excess of 70 guns and have the number of defendants who were arrested today and the possibility of serving long prison sentences is obviously going to help us and help the neighbors in that community."
According to one 45-count indictment, the epicenter of the illegal sales was the home of Luis Ramos at 2066 East Atlantic Street. On at least 15 separate occasions, a buyer pulled up in front of Ramos' house or another location and the gun was brought to the buyer's car window.
Of the 22 defendants, 15 were arrested in Philadelphia on Thursday, one was arrested in South Carolina, another surrendered and five were already in custody.
Blackburn said the partnership is still working to trace where the guns came from. He said they also expect many more arrests as a result of the partnership to take dangerous criminals off the street.
"This is just the surge. The operation is still in play here," he said. "We're still working collectively and we have more work to do here."
The cases were investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.