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Five arrested for involvement in gun trafficking ring from Tennessee to Queens

gun
Photo by Dean Moses

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced Thursday the arrests of five people allegedly involved in a gun trafficking ring.

The Iron Pipeline was allegedly used by these individuals to smuggle guns purchased in Knoxville, Tennessee, to Queens.

gun
Photo courtesy of Dean Moses.

Referred to as “Operation Hotcakes,” over the course of the 11-month investigation, more than 180 illegal weapons were seized by law enforcement, along with 136 high-capacity magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Four of the five defendants are natives of New York City, with two being from Queens and two from the Bronx. The fifth defendant is from Tennessee.

gun
(Left to right) Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz and NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell (Photo by Dean Moses)

“Illegal gun traffickers who flood our neighborhoods with dangerous firearms put every resident of our borough at grave risk,” Katz said. “Illegal gun traffickers who flood our neighborhoods with dangerous firearms put every resident of our borough at grave risk. We have seen far too many instances of guns, purchased down South and trafficked into New York, that are then recovered at devastating crime scenes, leaving bloodshed and tragedy on our streets. Cutting off the notorious Iron Pipeline supply chain of these deadly weapons is a top priority for my administration.”

gun
Photo by Dean Moses

The individuals arrested have been identified by Katz as Anthony “Tony” Sanford, 57, of Jamaica; Oliver Sanford, 40, of Springfield Gardens; Jonathan Harris, 28, of Starling Avenue; Thomas Parsley, 44, of Mickle Avenue; and Richard “Rick” Horne, 70, of Blountville, Tennessee. They were variously indicted by a grand jury in Queens County on July 19 on charges of criminal sale of a firearm, criminal possession of a weapon and conspiracy. In total, the defendants were indicted on 1,611 counts.

According to the indictments, Harris is alleged to have operated as the main dealer while Horne acted as the main supplier. Anthony Sanford and his nephew Oliver, along with Parsley, are believed to have acted as the principal re-sellers and distributors of the weapons sold across Queens and the Bronx.

“Building long-term investigations to stop accused gun traffickers from funneling illegal firearms up the Iron Pipeline is one layer of the NYPD’s relentless work to eradicate gun violence in New York City,” Sewell said. “I commend our NYPD detectives and prosecutors in Queens for their sustained focus in this case to interdict guns before they hit our streets. This is the work we all must continue — and we will — because the lives of New Yorkers we serve depend on it.”

gun
Photo by Dean Moses

According to Katz, the investigation began in two separate parts. After gathering intelligence in the summer of 2021, an undercover police officer purchased five handguns and .357 and .40 caliber ammunition from Anthony Sanford in August and October 2021. The charges state that 22 buys were allegedly completed between the undercover officer and Anthony Sanford between August 2021 and April 2022 in and around Jamaica and Springfield Gardens. These purchases yielded 145 firearms and 99 high-capacity ammunition feeding devices.

In November 2021, an unrelated investigation revealed the workings of an arms dealer, later identified as Harris, selling guns on the streets of the Bronx. Detectives from the NYPD successfully linked the Sanfords with Harris, demonstrating a larger illegal gun operation spanning the two boroughs. According to Katz, law enforcement officials observed the Sanfords allegedly communicating with defendant Harris on a regular basis in regard to smuggled weapons available for sale.

Electronic surveillance on the Sanfords and Harris was authorized by the court last January. This revealed Harris took several trips to Knoxville, Tennessee, particularly during gun shows in the area. Additional surveillance authorized last March uncovered Harris allegedly traveling to the Knoxville area, specifically for the purpose of meeting with a gun supplier, later identified as Horne. Intercepted calls between Harris and Horne revealed overt discussions of makes, models and prices of the firearms Harris would allegedly purchase.

gun
Photo by Dean Moses

According to Katz, laws regulating the sale and possession of firearms in Tennessee defer to federal law when regulating firearms dealers and private vendors. Federal law prohibits people from dealing in firearms without a license and requires that sellers run a National Crime Information Center background check on purchasers. According to the charges, Horne intentionally failed to abide by such regulations under the guise of a “private vendor,” while dealing in a large number of firearms he knew would be smuggled to New York.

After completing the purchases in Tennessee, Harris would allegedly contact Oliver and Parsley to arrange the delivery of the guns to them in Queens and the Bronx. According to the charges, using investigative tools, NYPD detectives carried out a vehicle stop on Parsley in Queens following a scheduled pickup from Harris in the Bronx on March 31, 2022. This resulted in the recovery of two shopping bags that each contained four loaded pistols in individual gun cases. Harris was subsequently arrested upon his return home from Tennessee on April 30, 2022. Six guns from two bags and another 23 firearms from plastic tote storage in the trunk of Harris’ car were also recovered.

With assistance from the ATF Field Office and the United States Attorney for the District of Tennessee, Horne was arrested on July 20. Throughout the investigation’s duration, the defendants allegedly sold to the undercover officers and were in possession of 182 firearms, 136 high-capacity magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

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