Five in Pottstown Allegedly Part of Gun Trafficking
NORRISTOWN PA – Five people identified as Pottstown residents are among 14 men and women charged with participating in what the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office described Wednesday (Feb. 17, 2021) as a “gun trafficking organization that illegally obtained and resold 31 firearms in Montgomery, Berks, Bucks, Lancaster, and Philadelphia counties, as well as dealt in the sale of ‘ghost guns’.”
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, two area police department chiefs, and a Pennsylvania State Police lieutenant all were on hand to announce the dismantling of the trafficking group (above) and the arrests “related to straw purchases of firearms and illegally transferring firearms.”
Alleged leaders of the organization were said to include Taye Wynder, age 20; Daeshaun Wynder, 22, and Jerome Wynder, 24, all of Pottstown. Also arrested were two residents of Plymouth Meeting, two of Norristown, and one each from Philadelphia, Bridgeport, and Newcastle DE.
Charged locally with buying guns on behalf of the organization were Maliqa Jack, 25, of Pottstown, for the alleged purchase of seven firearms; and Deborah Chappell, 61, of Pottstown, who allegedly bought one. Of two additional straw purchasers, one resident of Plymouth Meeting allegedly bought 17, and one in Reading allegedly purchased four.
The defendants were arrested on various criminal charges, but all include felony counts of corrupt organizations and conspiracy. Other charges include dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities, unlawful transfer of a firearm, criminal use of communications facilities, materially false statements, and multiple related offenses.
Twelve of the 14 – two defendants have yet to be located – were scheduled to be arraigned and bail set Wednesday morning in Pottstown before Magisterial District Justice Edward C. Kropp. Steele said the case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Lauren Marvel, captain of the Pottstown Community Justice Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Samantha Arena of the DA’s Firearms Unit.
Behind the scenes with investigators
Steele said the investigation that led to these arrests began when county detectives were investigating a different gun trafficking organization that was charged during September 2020. In pursuing that case, detectives analyzed dealings of those defendants to identify other illegal firearms and related networks. The work led to identifying this gun trafficking organization, which was not connected to the group corralled last fall.
“This group of people was acting together with the sole purchase of making money by putting firearms in the hands of people who cannot lawfully buy and possess guns; in effect, arming criminals,” Steele said. “Straw purchases and the sale of those guns to people who cannot buy their own firearm legally are dangerous to the safety of all of our communities,” he added.
To identify straw purchasers, detectives relied on surveillance, interviews, information from law enforcement agencies, call detail records, cellphone downloads, social media analysis, inspection of forms used in purchasing firearms, and other methods, Steele reported. Those efforts ultimately led them to also identify 10 other defendants involved in the organization just exposed.
A “straw purchase,” according to the DA’s office, is when a person with no criminal background buys firearms specifically on behalf of another person to conceal the true ownership of the firearm. Persons who are unable to legally purchase a firearm would include convicted felons, domestic violence misdemeanants, juveniles and mentally ill individuals.
Detectives determined one of the 10 additionally was buying “ghost gun” materials from websites, then assembling the guns and offering them for sale, Steele said. “Ghost guns” – everything from handguns to rifles – are made from firearms assembly kits, he explained. The kits are sold on websites and at gun shows. Firearms built from them lack serial numbers, do not require purchasers to undergo a background check, and lack traceability.
Ghost guns are legal in Pennsylvania, the DA’s office noted.
The investigation was led by the Montgomery County Detective Bureau’s Violent Crime Unit, Montgomery Township Police Department, Pennsylvania State Police and Plymouth Township Police Department. It also was assisted by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Norristown Police Department, FBI, Bucks and Montgomery County Safe Streets Task Force, Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General’s Gun Violence Task Force, Pottstown Police Department, Hatfield Township Police Department, and Berks County Detectives.
Photo by Max Kleinen via Unsplash, used under license
Defendants’ photos and names supplied by the District Attorney’s Office