Racketeering charges were filed against seven people accused of running an interstate gun-trafficking ring that illegally purchased AK-47s and other weapons in Ohio and sold them on the streets of Camden during a 15-month period that ended last July, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Wednesday.

Seventeen firearms, including three assault rifles, were confiscated during the investigation, likely saving lives, authorities said.  The weapons were still "in their store packages, brand new, with all their bells and whistles" after they were bought by a straw purchaser at gun shops in Ohio and were waiting to be sold on the black market, Grewal said at a news conference in Camden.

"Dismantling prolific weapons trafficking is the best way to reduce the number of illegal guns being sold to criminals. … Each gun that we seize or prevent from reaching the street represents countless lives saved," he said.

The arrests were made following a joint local, state, and federal investigation.  Authorities said a straw purchaser in Ohio would buy multiple firearms following a cursory 30-minute background check, and the ringleader would text photographs of these guns to middlemen in Camden, who would find purchasers on the street. The ringleader, who also lives in Ohio, and the straw purchaser would drive to Camden to make the delivery, and the middlemen would mark up the prices and sell the guns to criminals, authorities said.

The two AK-47s and an AK-15 assault rifle were sold for as much as $2,000 each, authorities said.

Authorities identified the ringleader and his straw purchaser respectively as Chucky Scott, 25, and Anthony Hammond, 26, both of Columbus, Ohio.  Four Camden men who acted as middlemen were identified as Eduardo Caban, 40, Eric Moore, 47, Jamar Folk, also known as Ibraheem Abdullah, 33, and Darren Harville, 51.  Tymere Jennings, 35, of Marlton, was also accused of being a middleman.  Authorities said Jennings and Moore are cousins of Scott, the ringleader.

Suspects are shown in photo montage at a press conference announcing arrests in a major interstate gun trafficking ring that brought weapons into Camden.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Suspects are shown in photo montage at a press conference announcing arrests in a major interstate gun trafficking ring that brought weapons into Camden.

All have been indicted by a state grand jury.  Each faces up to 20 years in state prison on first-degree racketeering charges and up to $200,000 in fines.  Some were also charged with conspiracy and transporting firearms into the state for illegal sale.

Separate from Wednesday's announcement, Grewal said three out of four confiscated weapons recovered in New Jersey in 2016 came from other states.  "We need to stop the flow of illegal guns into our state.  We are committed to putting an end to this iron pipeline of firearms."

Authorities said many of the weapons illegally sold in New Jersey come from South Carolina, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Ohio.  "New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws in the country… We restrict gun sales to keep our residents safe and law enforcement officers safe.  Other states, like Ohio do not have the same procedures and these guns end up in New Jersey where they are sold illegally," Grewal said.

The ring was broken up following an investigation by the N.J. State Police, a Camden-based task force of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Camden County Metro Police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.   DEA officers in Philadelphia and West Virginia police assisted.

Camden County Police Department Chief Scott Thomson (right) is joined by law enforcement officials and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (second from left) announcing the arrests.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photgrapher
Camden County Police Department Chief Scott Thomson (right) is joined by law enforcement officials and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (second from left) announcing the arrests.

The investigation into the gun ring began, authorities said, with a probe into Caban's alleged heroin dealing in Camden.  Investigators learned Caban was obtaining weapons from Scott and they later corroborated the evidence when Scott was arrested during a July motor vehicle stop in West Virginia while he was transporting some of the weapons, authorities said.

The probe led to separate indictments handed down on Feb. 6 charging Caban and Baron Coleman, 38, of Philadelphia, with conspiracy to distribute heroin.  Authorities said the DEA seized a kilo of heroin and a kilo of cocaine at Coleman's house when Coleman was arrested.