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Prosecutors say a smuggling ring moved nearly 300 guns from Atlanta to Philadelphia

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have linked nearly 300 firearms to 11 people accused of illegally re-selling the weapons in a straw purchase scheme, according to court documents.
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Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have linked nearly 300 firearms to 11 people accused of illegally re-selling the weapons in a straw purchase scheme, according to court documents.

As early as July 24, 2020, Philadelphia police began noticing a pattern: They'd go to make a local arrest of a crime suspect and in the process they'd recover a gun that had officially been bought by one of a handful of people in Georgia.

It went on for months, and by December agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had linked nearly 300 firearms to a group of Atlanta-based 20 something-year-olds who were allegedly acting as middlemen and women, in so-called straw purchases, according to court documents unsealed this week.

A grand jury indictment filed with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania last month alleges that Fredrick Norman, an Atlanta hip hop artist who goes by Slowkey Fred, recruited four other people to help him purchase firearms from federally licensed firearm dealers in Georgia.

According to court documents, Norman bought 146 guns between May and November of that year; Brianna Walker purchased at least 40 firearms from June through November; Stephen Norman, purchased at least 13 firearms from September to October; and Charles O'Bannon, bought at least 61 firearms in the months between August and November.

The U.S. District Attorney's office in Philadelphia said those weapons were all sold for about $116,000 to a half dozen buyers who transported the guns to the city, then re-sold them on the blackmarket. The indictment identifies cousins Edwin Burgos and Kenneth Burgos, as the alleged brokers behind those sales, often to convicted felons.

According to the charges, ATF officials say the guns started showing up at crime scenes around the city within days or weeks of their official purchase hundreds of miles away.

"That's always a red flag," Robert Cucinotta, a spokesman for the Philadelphia ATF office told NPR. "We call it a 'time-to-crime' or a 'time-to-recovery' period, and when it's that short, it's a good indicator that guns are being trafficked."

In an interview with the NBC affiliate in Atlanta, Fredrick Norman said he's never been to Philadelphia and that he couldn't "speak on" the charges.

"I was just living life at that moment, so I can't really share details of how I got to where I'm at," he said.

But Norman did remark on how easy it is to buy a gun in Georgia. He said he attended his first gun show in 2020, adding that, "The process threw me off."

"You walk in and there's a police officer sitting at the front. They don't check for I.D. or carry licensee, or if you're a felon."

On Monday, U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams, said in a statement that her office has vowed to "do all we could to stop the violence ravaging our city and support the Philadelphia Police Department in its work."

Philadelphia experienced record-high gun violence in 2021 and data from the police department, reflects there have been 127 homicides in the city as of April, outpacing last year's bloody streak.

In all, ATF agents say discovered more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition at an apartment raided in Georgia, as well as with 183 empty gun boxes.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.