Feds: Gun smugglers traveled on Amtrak to Philadelphia, N.J.

30th Street Station in Philadelphia.

30th Street Station in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Federal authorities arrested members of a train-based network of straw purchasers in a firearms case that sheds light on the pervasive flow of illegal out-of-state guns into the Philadelphia region.

According to a federal complaint, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives charged Tyrone Patterson, a North Carolina resident, and Junious Flemming, of New Jersey, with multiple firearms violations. The pair admitted to participating in a “straw buying” operation that relied in part on Amtrak trains to ferry some 40 weapons to Philadelphia and neighboring cities for illegal sales over the past six months.

Law enforcement began investigating Patterson after a gun he purchased was recovered from another individual’s car that was searched by police outside of Trenton, New Jersey. A month later, police found a .22 caliber pistol that had also been purchased by Patterson on a young person from Wall Township, New Jersey.

Separately, Amtrak records revealed that Patterson made multiple trips from Raleigh, N.C. to Philadelphia’s 30th Street station around the time the weapons were recovered, and his own social media posts depict him traveling to locations near where the weapons were later recovered.

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“Flights are dope, but Amtrak hit[s] different,” Flemming wrote in an online post praising the rail carrier, after his first trip to Philadelphia.

Authorities apprehended Patterson at 30th Street Station on March 9 while he was traveling with a duffel bag containing 10 pistols he purchased in his home state. Federal authorities later linked the purchase of some 40 weapons back to Patterson, all purchased between late 2020 and March 2021 on behalf of Flemming, who allegedly sold the weapons locally using CashApp, a mobile payment service.

Patterson did not report any of the weapons stolen and did not advise the railroad that he would be transporting firearms.

He was, at some point, convinced to wear a wire and discuss the illicit business with Fleming, who was arrested and admitted to the scheme after being approached by federal agents the same night Patterson was arrested.

The federal arrests come as both Philadelphia and Trenton officials struggle to control a spiraling gun violence crisis.

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The New Jersey capital saw a 23% increase in homicides last year. Already this year, Philadelphia has lost 102 lives to homicide, according to police department statistics.

That is a 32% increase over the same period last year, which was the worst year for gun violence in the city since 1990.

Starting Wednesday, officials in Philadelphia will begin providing regular updates on shootings and homicides and the city’s response.

“At this rate, 2021 is on track to be the most violent year we’ve experienced in our lifetimes,”  Mayor Jim Kenney said in a recent statement. “We cannot stand by as we lose an entire generation to the ongoing scourge of gun violence. We must rise up with one united voice to demand this horrific violence come to an end, and work together to achieve that goal.”

It was not immediately clear how many other individuals were involved in the operation. Dylan Wiggins, a spokesperson for the ATF, largely declined to comment, describing the larger investigation as still ongoing.

He could not say if it was the first gun trafficking case to involve the rail carrier or how common the practice was.

“It depends on where you’re at and what’s going on. You’d be surprised. A lot of people do a lot of different things to facilitate illegal activity,” he said.

An Amtrak spokesperson declined to comment.

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