NJ State Police Investigation Dismantles Ring, Recovers 12 Weapons, Including an Assault Rifle
TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin announced today that 15 alleged members of a Paterson gun trafficking ring were indicted on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and weapons offenses in connection with a criminal operation that New Jersey State Police (NJSP) say transported more than 120 guns from South Carolina into New Jersey for illegal sale here.
The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by NJSP with assistance from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that dismantled the criminal enterprise, took 12 guns off the street – including an assault rifle – and led to charges against the alleged leader of the trafficking ring, five of his gun suppliers in South Carolina, and nine “middlemen” who allegedly helped broker the sale of guns in Paterson.
A 39-count indictment handed up by a State Grand Jury on October 21 charges all 15 defendants with first-degree racketeering, second-degree conspiracy to transport guns into the state for unlawful sale or transfer, and various other offenses related to illegal weapons trafficking from December 2018 to December 2021.
The alleged point man in the illegal operation, Travis Thomas, 41, of Lamar, South Carolina, is also charged with first-degree leader of a firearms trafficking network, first-degree promoting organized street crime, and more than two dozen weapons offenses.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court, Thomas, allegedly organized and directed various individuals in South Carolina to procure guns for him to transport and sell in NJ. Thomas would reach out to his suppliers to ask what firearms they could get for him, and they would obtain the guns through street buys from other individuals. Thomas would then send photos of the firearms to his middlemen in Paterson and tell them how much money he was charging for each gun. Thomas routinely sold guns in New Jersey for three times what he had paid for them in South Carolina. The middlemen would then shop the photos around Paterson for buyers, increasing the prices to ensure their own profit.
Three of the guns allegedly trafficked into Paterson by Thomas were later found in the possession of individuals under arrest on narcotics distribution charges. A fourth gun was used in the attempted robbery of a ride-share driver in Paterson and was recovered by police when the gunman left it behind at the scene.
“Trafficked guns undermine the strong laws New Jersey has enacted to keep its residents safe from the carnage of gun violence,” said Attorney General Platkin. “It didn’t take long for weapons allegedly trafficked into Paterson by these defendants to make their way into the hands of individuals engaged in criminal conduct, including an armed robbery. I commend the New Jersey State Police for its work in shutting down this criminal enterprise and arresting the individuals allegedly operating it. The residents of Paterson and surrounding communities are no doubt sleeping better for it.”
“This indictment reflects the unwavering commitment on the part of law enforcement to investigate and disrupt the networks that traffic guns into our communities with tragic consequences,” said Director Pearl Minato. “The ringleader of this enterprise was buying guns cheap from his home state South Carolina, and selling them for top dollar in Paterson, where he had ties to the community. The only thing he cared about was making money and he did it at the expense of everyone living in the communities where his guns wound up. We will continue to investigate and aggressively prosecute those who profit by illegally flooding New Jersey with weapons that maim and kill.”
“For three years, these defendants allegedly attempted to profit by illegally transporting more than 120 guns into New Jersey and circumvented the legal process that has been enacted to protect the residents of this state by ensuring that these weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. As a result of the collaborative efforts by our detectives and partners, we were able to bring this operation to an end,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “The takedown of this criminal network represents our commitment to targeting illegal gun traffickers, and these indictments deliver the message that anyone responsible for bringing illegal weapons into our communities will be held accountable.”
“ATF remains committed to preventing the trafficking of firearms to violent criminals and into our communities,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryan R. Miller. “As demonstrated by the arrests in this joint investigation, we will continue to work alongside our partners at all levels to disrupt the shooting cycle and combat grave threats to public safety.”
The following 14 individuals are charged as participants in the gun trafficking enterprise:
South Carolina Gun Suppliers
The role of these alleged gun suppliers was to seek and procure weapons at the request of Thomas and on his behalf to be transported and sold in New Jersey.
- Jaquon McCoy, 32, of Lamar, SC
- Christopher Johnson, 41, of Lamar, SC
- Ralph Antonio Ervin, 31, of Lamar, SC
- Dontrel Nashon Scott, 23, of Timmonsville, SC
- Vinson M. Ervin, 32, of Lamar, SC
The role of these alleged middlemen in the trafficking operation was to find buyers for the firearms Thomas was planning to transport from South Carolina to New Jersey for sale.
- Yaquin Perry, 37, of Paterson, NJ
- Marquetta Wilson, 33, of Paterson, NJ
- William Thomas, 40, of Paterson, NJ
- Kamar Walker, 21, of Paterson, NJ
- Tyquan Evans, 38, of Paterson, NJ
- Kyziek McCaskill, 33, of Paterson, NJ
- Karie Washington, 28, of Paterson, NJ
- Neilzhon Williams, 23, of Paterson, NJ
- Kyeem Dowell, 26, of Paterson, NJ
The investigation into the criminal enterprise began when NJSP developed information that Thomas allegedly was trafficking guns in Paterson. NJSP ultimately determined that at least once a month Thomas traveled from South Carolina to Paterson to supply individuals with firearms. During the course of the investigation, Thomas trafficked 12 guns that were recovered by NJSP and other local law enforcement agencies, including an AR-15 assault rifle, six semiautomatic pistols, three revolvers, and two handguns. Evidence recovered from Thomas’s cell phone indicated that Thomas was responsible for trafficking more than 120 firearms into New Jersey from South Carolina, according to the NJSP.
On December 10, 2021, NJSP detectives arrested Thomas as he arrived in NJ from South Carolina with an assault rifle, semiautomatic pistol, and revolver in his possession. According to evidence obtained in the investigation, Thomas had purchased the AR-15 assault rifle in South Carolina for $400 and planned to sell it to a buyer in Paterson for $2200. Thereafter, NJSP obtained a search warrant for Thomas’s cellphone, and also obtained a communications data warrant to search historical communications on Thomas’s Facebook account. A full review of Thomas’s cellphone and Facebook account showed two years of text messages and Facebook Messenger conversations related to a firearms trafficking enterprise run by Thomas. Through the investigation, NJSP identified the defendants allegedly operating as gun buyers in South Carolina or as middlemen in Paterson. All of the defendants, with the exception of Scott, who is being sought as a fugitive, were arrested by NJSP on various dates from March to November, 2022. Of the 14 defendants taken into custody, all but Dowell, Wilson, and Williams are being detained.
Deputy Attorneys General Karen Braciszewski and Jesse Magliulo presented the indictments to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Cassandra Montalto, Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis, and Deputy Director Michael T. Breslin. Detective II Tyler Zarecki and Detective Sergeant First Class Erik Hoffman, were lead detectives for the NJSP, Drug Trafficking Central Unit – Violent & Organized Crime Control Central Bureau, with assistance from NJSP Real Time Crime Center North; NJSP Fugitive Unit; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms – Trenton Satellite Office; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms – Florence South Carolina Field Office; Brick Township Police Department; Paterson Police Department; Hartsville Police Department – South Carolina; Lamar Police Department – South Carolina; Darlington County Sheriff’s Office – South Carolina; Florence County Sheriff’s Office – South Carolina; and the United States Marshals Task Force.
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $200,000. The first-degree racketeering charge carries a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charge of certain persons not to have weapons carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole, and the second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon charges carry a mandatory term of parole ineligibility of half the sentence imposed or 3 ½ years, whichever is greater. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000, while fourth-degree charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
For T. Thomas: Ilene McFarland, Esq.
For Perry: Leanna Healy, Esq.
For Wilson: Joel Harris, Esq.
For W. Thomas: Gracia Montilus, Esq.
For Walker: John Somohano, Esq.
For Evans: Uri J. Roer, Esq.
For McCaskill: John Grey, Esq.
For Washington: Dennis Hickerson-Breedon, Esq.
For Williams: James Banks, Esq.
For McCoy: Gregory Aprile, Esq.
For Johnson: Douglas Mitchell, Esq.
For R. Ervin: Jason Volet, Esq.
For V. Ervin: Jessica Kitzman Esq.
For Dowell: N/A
For Scott: N/A