RALEIGH — Police in three states say they have unraveled a massive gun-smuggling operation that sent more than 100 illegal firearms from North Carolina to New York City, carried by a 29-year-old Sanford man in his luggage aboard buses to Chinatown in Manhattan.
Walter Walker of 210 W. Weatherspoon St. was indicted on multiple counts of conspiracy and criminal sale of a firearm after a joint investigation between the Sanford police and authorities in New York. The year-long investigation involved wiretaps and undercover officers.
Between September 2012 and July, Walker sold 116 guns for approximately $82,000, including five assault weapons and a machine gun, according to the indictment announced Monday in New York. Sgt. Ray Bullard of the Sanford police said numerous people acted as straw men buying guns for Walker to re-sell for a profit in New York, and that many other weapons were obtained through break-ins and other black market means. Seven people have been charged with working in the conspiracy under Walker, Bullard said.
This is as large a gun-smuggling ring as Ive seen, said Sanford Police Chief Ronnie Yarborough.
The arrests fuel a long-running belief among law enforcement officials that criminals have built a pipeline running north for guns obtained illegally in Southern states. New York authorities said their strict gun laws can triple the price for illicit firearms, providing motivation for the conspiracy.
New York is the safest big city in the nation, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. But year after year, illegal guns flow into our city from states that dont have common-sense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals. There is no doubt that the seizure of these guns the largest bust in the citys history has saved lives.
The smuggling arrests netted more than 250 guns in all and produced 19 indictments. Along with Walker, police also targeted 23-year-old Earl Campbell of Rock Hill, S.C. Also indicted on charges of conspiracy and criminal sale of a firearm, Campbell is accused of selling 90 guns worth $75,000 during 24 meetings with an undercover detective.
Cary police arrested Walker on Aug. 4 for driving with expired tags and discovered the warrant from New York in the process.
Also charged: Iesha Carmichael, 26, Terrell Flow, 26, Cordero Rollins, 25, Christopher Seagraves, 26, all of Sanford; and Jeremiah Devon McDougald, 27, of Broadway. Bullard said McDougald was also wanted in connection with an unrelated Sanford robbery when he fled and was arrested in Guilford County.
Walker tapped a network of people in his hometown to buy guns and made frequent bus trips to New York, authorities said in a press release. He set up meetings for gun sales in Brooklyn, frequently using a rap studio in the Ocean Hill section as a base where guns were laid out in the open. Eleven sales to an undercover officer took place there with multiple defendants present, authorities said. Later, sales were shifted to Manhattans Lower East Side, near Walkers bus stop.
The wiretap portion of the investigation began in January, officials said. Co-conspirators made cellular phone calls and sent text messages to Walker, including photographs of guns to be sold.
The press release from New York included this transcript of a conversation between Walker and Chris Hill, whom Bullard said had addresses in Rock Hill and Sanford and may have acted as a bridge between the two rings. Its a 32, Hill said. I figured its going up to New York. So you know what Im saying ... That ... worth way more than 175.
Sanford police and sheriffs detectives arrested Hill after a foot chase in Harnett County, Bullard said.
Walker directed Carmichael to undergo a background check to acquire 10 different permits for 10 different firearms, authorities said. He illegally took money from Walker to buy them and hand them over to him, the release said.
Both Walker and Campbell are contesting extradition to New York.