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Rock Hill residents among those accused of smuggling guns

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By Anna Douglas

August 19, 2013

Under the code name "Operation Up On The Hill," New York City authorities conducted long-term wiretaps and met undercover with accused gunrunners more than 45 times to buy guns between September 2012 and July.

The gun-smuggling operation funneled more than 200 firearms from South Carolina and North Carolina to illegal dealers in New York City, police and prosecutors say.

Officials said Monday the bust is another example of a persistent "black market" in which guns from the South can sell for three times their original price in the city.

The indictment named people from three states who are accused of crimes ranging from criminal conspiracy to criminal possession of a weapon.

The Rock Hill defendants named in the New York state indictment are:

Earl Campbell, 23, formerly of Rolling Green Road, who now lives in Charlotte, faces charges of conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 1st (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 2nd (six counts), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (164 counts), criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (57 counts), criminal possession of a weapon 3rd (six counts), attempted criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (one count) and attempted criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (two counts).

Larick Michaux, 26, of Jefferson Avenue faces charges of conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 1st (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 2nd (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (32 counts), criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (12 counts) and criminal possession of a weapon 3rd (two counts).

Warquisha "Choppers" Michaux, 28, of Jefferson Avenue faces charges of conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 2nd (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (10 counts) and criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (three counts).

Kendall Danielle Jones, 22, formerly of Patriot Parkway, who now lives in Charlotte, faces conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (two counts), criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (one count) and criminal possession of a weapon 3rd (one count).

Marcel Lydell Dyess II, 21, formerly of Spring View Court, who has been incarcerated at Wateree River Correctional Institution in Rembert since May, faces charges of conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (two counts) and criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (one count).

Arthur Antonio Barber, 27, of Rivercrest Road faces charges of conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (two counts) and criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (one count).

Chris Hill, 24, of Rivercrest Road faces charges of conspiracy 4th (one count) and criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (two counts).

Brandon Rashad Potts, 24, of Green Street Extension faces charges conspiracy 4th (one count), criminal sale of a firearm 3rd (four counts) and criminal possession of a weapon 2nd (two counts).

Campbell and Jones were being held late Monday afternoon by Mecklenburg County authorities, awaiting extradition, according to the Mecklenburg County's Sheriff's Office website.

It's unclear where the other defendants with Rock Hill ties are being held.

All of the Rock Hill defendants were arrested Aug. 5, except for Hill, who was on the run from police for nearly two weeks, and Larick Michaux, who was arrested during a traffic stop a few days before.

Sanford, N.C., police arrested Hill on Aug. 14 and he was found with a firearm, the indictment states.

In addition to charges in New York, Hill faces prosecution as a felon in possession of a firearm in North Carolina.

Most of the accused were found at their homes in Rock Hill, local law enforcement authorities said Monday.

The nearly simultaneous arrests were performed by officers with the U.S. Marshals Service, the Rock Hill Police Department, the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, the York County Sheriff's Office and the New York City Police Department.

Authorities swept in to make the arrests starting around 5:30 a.m., said Sgt. Allen Cantey, the county's drug unit supervisor.

Some of the accused were surprised, he said, but others might have known it was coming, following Larick Michaux's arrest a few days before.

At least two of the accused in the gun-smuggling indictment might have had previous ties to New York, Cantey said.

Criminals might be targeting the New York area with illegal weapons sales, he said, to make money off the city's tough gun laws.

New York has some of the nation's strictest gun-control measures and a mayor who has crusaded for tougher laws in other states.

Cantey and others are waiting on more information about the specific guns sold to determine whether they were stolen or bought in York County.

New York authorities say Campbell and Jones traveled by bus to Manhattan to sell up to nine guns at a time.

Warquisha Michaux, Larick Michaux, Dyess, Barber and Potts are accused of conspiring to supply Campbell with firearms in South Carolina.

Wiretap evidence showed that sellers in South Carolina and North Carolina knew the weapons were destined for New York, said Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.

New York police accuse Campbell of selling 90 guns during 24 meetings with an undercover detective. Those guns included two assault weapons, four rifles, two shotguns and some inoperable or defaced guns, police say.

Campbell received about $75,000 from the sale of the guns, police say.

An undercover detective began meeting with Campbell in January, about the time authorities began the wiretap component of the investigation.

During the first meeting in Manhattan, Jones, who is Campbell's girlfriend, tried to assemble a Norinco SKS assault rifle from parts she kept in a zebra-striped suitcase.

Police say Jones made "several frustrated attempts" to assemble the weapon and consulted an "instructional video on her smartphone" for help.

The undercover detective told Campbell and Jones that he'd accept the weapon in pieces and bought the weapon for $1,100.

At another meeting, the indictment alleges that Campbell told the undercover agent that he could only buy a gun from a store every 30 days so, "I had to, like, pay different people to keep buying different guns."

Authorities say Campbell misunderstood South Carolina gun laws, because the one-handgun-a-month provision was repealed in 2004.

The indictment names a second gun smuggler, Walter Walker, 29, of Sanford, N.C.

Walker and Campbell both used discount bus companies to travel from the South to New York.

The two men are accused of carrying a dozen or more handguns, rifles and shotguns in bags that were stowed in luggage compartments of Chinatown-based carriers also favored by drug couriers.

One of the discount bus companies charges $60 one-way from Raleigh, N.C., to New York. The fare is about half that charged by Greyhound, which, unlike the Chinatown buses, requires passengers to show identification before boarding.

The case – built largely on the work of an undercover NYPD investigator and cellphone wiretaps – was a spinoff of a drug investigation in Brooklyn. Authorities said they discovered that Campbell and Walker were trafficking guns separately, but they were using the same middleman in New York City.

Before heading to New York, Campbell would obtain photos of the guns his suppliers were offering and send the images to the undercover officer, the indictment says.

"Perhaps the two most disturbing aspects of the gun-trafficking operation were the simplicity of the business model, and the complete indifference of the gun suppliers to the mayhem their actions would cause here in New York City," Brennan said. "The marketing strategy was buy low, sell high and keep a low profile."

Hopefully, Cantey said, Rock Hill and York County streets are safer after the New York City bust. His team will be following up once investigators in New York release more information about the guns smuggled into their city.

Rock Hill police also plan to follow up, using a website called "Leads Online" to investigate whether anyone else could be tied to the criminal gun activity.

The site allows authorities to track people selling items to pawn shops, a police spokesman said, and sometimes helps detectives identify trends in behavior or suspicious activity.

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