TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced the arrests of 12 men in the takedown of a criminal network in Camden County that allegedly was illegally trafficking untraceable assault rifles known as “ghost guns” that were assembled from kits purchased online and dealing cocaine.
Four men are charged with conspiring to sell six untraceable AR-15 assault rifles, marking the first charges ever filed in a ghost gun trafficking case under a new law signed by Governor Murphy in November 2018 that makes it a crime to buy, manufacture, possess or sell ghost guns in New Jersey. Ghost guns are not registered and do not have serial numbers, making them difficult to trace and making it harder for law enforcement to solve gun crimes. A total of 13 guns were recovered in the investigation, including the six ghost gun AR-15 assault rifles. Parts for two more AR-15 ghost guns also were seized.
The arrests, made from March 8 to March 14, were the result of “Operation Stone Wall,” a year-long investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice and the New Jersey State Police that began as an investigation of cocaine distribution in Lindenwold, N.J., but expanded when detectives learned certain ring members were trafficking “ghost gun” assault rifles. Ten men are charged with distributing narcotics, primarily cocaine, including two defendants who also are charged with illegal gun trafficking. The two remaining defendants are charged solely in connection with the illegal gun trafficking. The State Police and Division of Criminal Justice were assisted by numerous law enforcement agencies, listed below.
During the operation, investigators captured defendants discussing that a gun sale would be delayed because they could no longer have guns shipped to New Jersey, due to the new criminal law, and they would instead need to have them shipped to Pennsylvania. On March 13, authorities intercepted parts for two more assault rifles allegedly ordered by two of the defendants for shipment to Bensalem, Pa.
“This case starkly illustrates why ghost guns are so dangerous, because drug dealers and other criminals can easily acquire them and traffic them into our communities, where they will be virtually untraceable if used in a crime,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Assault rifles like these pose an especially deadly threat to law enforcement, innocent bystanders, and others when placed in the wrong hands, and suffice it to say no one conducted any background checks here. Shutting down this network and preventing the further distribution of ghost guns to criminals protects public safety and law enforcement safety.”
“In passing the law criminalizing ghost guns in New Jersey, the Governor and state legislators recognized the threat posed by these guns and provided law enforcement with important tools to address it,” Attorney General Grewal added. “This case shows that the threat is real and it demonstrates our resolve to use the new tools that we have been provided.”
“Drugs and illegal guns are the dual catalysts driving most of the violence on the streets of our cities, and we allege that this criminal network was distributing both,” said Director Veronica Allende of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Through proactive investigations like Operation Stone Wall, we are working with the New Jersey State Police and our other law enforcement partners to make our communities safer. We will continue to pursue all leads related to ghost guns and will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who manufactures, possesses, or distributes them in New Jersey.”
“The individuals arrested as a result of Operation Stonewall intended to profit from the manufacturing and trafficking of ghost guns, untraceable firearms that pose a significant threat to the public. The only purpose these weapons serve is to remain undetected in the commission of violent crimes,” said Colonel Patrick Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “By removing these drugs and illegal guns from the streets we have undoubtedly shielded the public from the death and despair that would have followed if these weapons would have made it into the hands of criminals. We will remain unwavering in our collective efforts to ensure that the deadly mix of drugs and illegal guns never find their way into our communities.”
The investigation initially focused on the alleged cocaine distribution activities of Lamont White, his son, Tyriek Bradford, and their associate, John Rayford, all of Lindenwold, N.J. Bradford also is charged with distributing heroin. The investigation quickly expanded to include other individuals allegedly involved in distributing cocaine, including Christopher Stoner of Lindenwold, who allegedly supplied cocaine to White, and the following associates from whom Stoner allegedly obtained cocaine: Nicholas Cilien, Bryheem Belcher, Michael Smith, Fabian Sapp, Devon Davis, and Monroe Gadson.
As the investigation expanded, detectives learned that Stoner allegedly was involved in illegal sales of guns, including ghost guns. During the investigation, Stoner and Cilien allegedly conspired with two other men – Paul Corum and Marc Freeman, both of Lindenwold – to sell ghost guns, specifically six unregistered AR-15 assault rifles, which Freeman allegedly assembled using kits he and Corum purchased on the internet. The assault rifles allegedly were sold for prices ranging from $1,100 to $1,300 per gun.
Corum was the defendant captured discussing with Cilien that a new criminal law had been passed so they needed to ship guns to Pennsylvania instead of New Jersey. The gun parts intercepted in Bensalem on March 13 were allegedly ordered by Freeman and Corum.
The defendants are charged as follows:
During the investigation, investigators seized 525 grams of cocaine, with a street value of $18,500 to $37,000, and three bundles (30 doses) of heroin. On March 8, when arrests were made, detectives executed search warrants at residences of several defendants. At Stoner’s residence, they seized a handgun, a small amount of crack cocaine, a scale, drug packaging materials, and $1,738 in cash. At Cilien’s residence, they seized a handgun, a shotgun, about 120 oxycodone and Xanax pills, drug packaging materials, and $2,095 in cash. At Gadson’s residence in Camden, they seized two handguns, about 3.5 pounds of marijuana, drug packaging materials, and $18,420 in cash. At the residence of Corum and Freeman, they seized tools used to assemble ghost guns, as well as a handgun and a shotgun, both belonging to Freeman.
Corum was ordered detained until trial at a detention hearing on Friday, March 15. Stoner, Cilien, Freeman and Gadson are being held in jail pending detention hearings. Belcher, Smith, Sapp and Rayford were ordered released with conditions following detention hearings. White is incarcerated in Northern State Prison on a prior conviction. Bradford was not located during the arrests on March 8 and was sought as a fugitive until his arrest on March 14. He is jailed pending a detention hearing.
Deputy Attorney General Cassandra Montalto is the lead prosecutor for Operation Stone Wall for the Division of Criminal Justice Gangs & Organized Crime Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Erik Daab and Bureau Chief Lauren Scarpa Yfantis. Detective Ryan Cunningham is the case agent for the New Jersey State Police Gangs and Organized Crime South Unit, under the supervision of Detective Sgt. Dorothy Quinn, Detective Sgt. 1st Class Michael Davis, and Lt. Daniel Strassheim.
Attorney General Grewal thanked the following agencies that assisted in the investigation and execution of warrants: NJSP TEAMS Unit South, NJSP Canine Unit South, FBI, Voorhees Township Police Department, Mt. Ephraim Police Department, Deptford Police Department, Gloucester Township Police Department, Lindenwold Police Department, Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, and Camden County Sheriff’s Office.
First-degree charges carry a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison and a fine of up to $200,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The charge of possession of a weapon as a convicted felon carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years without parole. Third-degree charges carry a sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The third-degree drug charges carry enhanced fines of up to $35,000 for the possession charges or $75,000 for the distribution charges.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
For Stoner: Andrew Bitar, Esq., Manalapan, N.J.
For Cilien: Scott R. Cohen, Esq., Cherry Hill, N.J.
For Gadson: Dennis Wixted, Esq., Zucker Steinberg & Wixted, Camden, N.J.
For Sapp: Edward J. Crisonino, Esq., Westmont, N.J.
For Davis: Mark A. Bernstein, Esq., Cherry Hill, N.J.
For Rayford: Robert R. Simons, Esq., Haddon Heights, N.J.