New Jersey’s attorney general announced on Thursday the indictment of members of a criminal ring trafficking in illegal weapons in Camden, as well as the seizure of 20 firearms.
State police, working with agents from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, seized two assault rifles and 18 handguns. Among them were eight “ghost guns,” or unregistered weapons assembled from parts legally obtained online.
“Because these ghost guns aren’t currently subject to federal rules, they are especially attractive weapons to criminals,” Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck said at a press conference. “Under Governor Murphy, we criminalized ghost guns in 2018. So even in the absence of federal action, we’re using the tools Governor Murphy gave us to take dangerous weapons off the street.”
The gun seizure was the result of a 10-month investigation, called Operation Grab and Go, into a group suspected of trafficking stolen motorcycles in Camden. That investigation revealed the group was also dealing in drugs and weapons.
Indicted in connection with the ring, the Attorney General’s Office said, were 11 people, including its alleged leader, Lamar Soto, 28; his brother Jirman Soto, 25; his sister Selena Soto, 24. Nine of the 11 face first-degree racketeering charges, and Lamar Soto faces additional charges related to promoting organized street crime, leading a firearms trafficking network, and distributing methamphetamine.
Pending the ongoing investigation, officials would not say whether the weapons were used in any previous crimes, or where exactly the guns came from.
“Some of these weapons are coming from out of state, and coming from states with laxer gun laws,” said Bruck. “Also, one of the challenges of ghost guns is that we don’t know where they are coming from, because they are purchased without a background check and are not stamped with a serial number.”
According to Bruck, in the past 12 months New Jersey has seized almost 200 ghost guns. He said his office is working with the ATF to close the loophole in federal law that allows gun parts to be legally bought and assembled into ghost guns.
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