400 illegal guns in Philly flowed through the ‘Iron Pipeline’

ATF officials announced two federal indictments of 14 individuals charged with trafficking about 500 firearms from the Southern states of Georgia and South Carolina to sell in Philadelphia, at a press conference on April 11, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

ATF officials announced two federal indictments of 14 individuals charged with trafficking about 500 firearms from the Southern states of Georgia and South Carolina to sell in Philadelphia, at a press conference on April 11, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

More than 400 illegal guns originally bought in southern states have been tracked to Philadelphia.

The office of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has identified two separate straw purchasing operations in what is called the “Iron Pipeline,” buying guns in bulk and routing them into northern states.

Eleven people have been indicted as part of a straw purchasing ring out of Georgia.

“These conspirators purchased nearly 300 firearms from dealers around Atlanta over the course of six months and transported them to Philadelphia for sale on the black market for over $100,000,” said U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams.

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Jennifer Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pa., said that 2 people who are charged in firearm trafficking to Philadelphia are currently detained and awaiting trial, at a press conference on April 11, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

A second straw purchasing operation out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, put over 100 guns into Philadelphia’s illegal market. Three people have been indicted in that ring.

Williams described the investigations and indictments while flanked by dozens of the seized weapons, ranging in size from small-caliber pistols and .223 caliber semiautomatic rifles.

ATF press conference on April 11, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Dozens of guns known to have been resold by the two straw purchasing operations are still at large, according to ATF Special Agent Matthew Varisco.

ATF investigators noticed some weapons seized from criminals in Philadelphia had been purchased very recently out of state, what Williams called a short “time to crime,” suggesting they were bought with the intent to illegally resell them.

Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in Charge at ATF in Pa., announced two federal indictments of 14 individuals charged with trafficking firearms from the Southern states of Georgia and South Carolina to sell in Philadelphia, at a press conference on April 11, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The investigation and indictments across state lines came through the “All Hands on Deck” violent crime prevention program, a coordinated effort of local and federal law enforcement Williams announced last year.

Williams said some of the accused gun traffickers are in custody in their home districts of Philadelphia, Myrtle Beach, or Atlanta. Some have been released on bail, and some have yet to be taken into custody.

ATF officials announced two federal indictments of 14 individuals charged with trafficking about 500 firearms from the Southern states of Georgia and South Carolina to sell in Philadelphia, at a press conference on April 11, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Now I speak directly to anyone who is engaged in illegal firearms trafficking: Consider yourselves warned,” she said. “The 14 people indicted here are just the beginning. If you participate in illegal firearms trafficking to Philadelphia, we will find you. We will pursue a federal investigation and prosecution and you will go to prison for a very long time.”

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