(NEW YORK) -- In an effort to crack down on the so-called "iron pipeline" of illegal firearms flooding New York City, four men were arrested Wednesday in a gun trafficking conspiracy case that federal prosecutors said was the first of its kind under a new law that boosts the penalties against smugglers.
The four defendants, two from Brooklyn and two from Virginia, allegedly tried to "flood the streets of Brooklyn" with deadly weapons, Breon Peace, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a joint news conference Wednesday with New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell.
David McCann, Tajhai Jones, Raymond Minaya and Calvin Tabron are charged under the new Safer Communities Act, a bipartisan law President Joe Biden signed last summer that increases the penalties for gun trafficking.
The law is the first federal statute specifically aimed at combating gun trafficking by increasing the sentences of those convicted to up to 15 years in prison.
The suspects were charged in a seven-count federal indictment unsealed Wednesday with firearms trafficking conspiracy and other offenses.
Complaints from residents prompted probe
An investigation was launched in January 2022 against the suspects after residents of the Breukelen Houses in Canarsie, Brooklyn, complained about illegal firearms and gun violence inundating their public housing development, according to the New York Police Department.
"Anything they can do to deter gun violence in our community is a blessing," Angel King, president of the Breukelen Houses tenant association, told ABC News Wednesday. "I want to make sure our kids feel safe, our seniors feel safe when they go outside."
King said last summer, gun violence at the Breukelen Houses was rampant.
"We were literally having shootings every other week," King said. "I think there was one week we had three shootings back to back. One happened inside my building while I was outside with my summer youth kids."
The defendants allegedly sold more than 50 illegal guns between January and August of 2022. Two alleged members of the smuggling ring obtained the guns from Virginia and transported them to New York, where some of the weapons were sold to an NYPD undercover officer posing as a drug dealer, according to a detention memo federal prosecutors filed in the case.
Guns traced to shootings
Police traced some of the guns to shootings in Brooklyn, including an August 2021 incident in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood that left eight people at a family gathering wounded, officials said. Another gun sold to the undercover officer was traced to a Dec. 18, 2021, shooting near the Breukelen Houses that left a victim with multiple bullet wounds, according to the memo.
"The investigation revealed that defendant Tabron would often purchase three or four guns at a time from retailers in Virginia Beach and Lynnhaven, Virginia, for the express purpose of bringing them to Brooklyn to engage in sales set up by his co-defendant," according to the detention memo.
Jones and Minaya both face an additional charge of being convicted felons in possession of firearms, according to prosecutors.
The undercover gun purchases occurred primarily in vehicles outside homes in the Breukelen Houses, according to the memo.
"Almost all of the deals occurred in the middle of the afternoon and in broadlight, with the dealers sometimes brazenly walking down public streets carrying bags of dangerous guns," the memo alleges.
'Ghost guns' sold to undercover cop
Some of the weapons were assembled from "ghost gun" kits, making them untraceable, and others purchased in the sting operation had defaced serial numbers, officials said.
In addition to the federal gun charges, two of the defendants are accused of trafficking crack cocaine laced with fentanyl.
The Safer Communities Act broke a nearly 30-year stalemate on Capitol Hill, becoming the first major piece of federal gun reform to clear both chambers since the Brady bill, which was enacted in 1993.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators began crafting the legislation in the aftermath of the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead.
"Time is of the essence," Biden said upon signing the bill into law on June 25. "Lives will be saved."