Four men, including a Metropolitan Transportation Authority conductor, were indicted on Thursday in connection with a gun trafficking ring that law enforcement officials allege brought firearms from southern states to the streets of Brownsville.
Brooklynites Montoun Hart and Vernal Douglas were charged along with South Carolina’s Christopher Hodges and Virginia’s Ira Jones in a 139-count indictment, with charges including second and third-degree criminal sale of a firearm, and second and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.
“We have saved lives with this case, I’m confident,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said during a press briefing on Nov. 12. “We have to make sure that we get to the source of these guns.”
Authorities indicted the four men after a year-long investigation that saw undercover NYPD officers purchase 44 firearms from Hart over the course of 27 meetups in Brownsville — one of the New York City communities most affected by gun violence.
The District Attorney’s office says Hart operated as the retail element of the ring, selling guns on the street near his Brownsville home for at least 10 years, while Hodges transported them using a Chinatown bus company after purchasing them legally from gun shops, pawnshops, and other sources. Meanwhile, Gonzalez said, Jones traveled from Virginia to sell guns to Hart.
Authorities further allege that Douglas, a Flatlands resident and MTA employee who also has a residence in South Carolina and travels there frequently, purchased guns in the south to be transported to Brooklyn, and had his sources in South Carolina send him guns in the mail.
“One of these men had a really good job, a trusted job, a sacred job,” said Gonzalez. “He was employed by the city, a full-time transit worker.”
Hart and Douglas are in custody in New York, with bail set at $750,000 for Douglas, while Jones awaits extradition from Virginia. Hodges has not yet been arrested, and is being sought by federal and local authorities in South Carolina.
Calls and text messages intercepted by investigators show the defendants brazenly advertising pictures of firearms with no encryption, and speaking openly on their cell phones about business.
A phone call this summer caught Douglas speaking about the shooting of 1-year-old Davell Gardner Jr. in Bedford-Stuyvesant with one of his suppliers down south, apparently concerned about the attention it was attracting to rackets like his.
“Them n—– killing each other left and right behind some one-year-old baby,” he said. “S— been crazy since then.”
A text message from Hart to a customer also showed him advertising a small revolver priced at $450, according to Gonzalez.
“Ya. Want. It,” he wrote.
An MTA spokesman said Douglas, who has worked for the authority since 2017, will remain out of service while he is indicted.
“The indicted conductor is not in active service and will remain out until further notice,” said Tim Minton. “The MTA has zero-tolerance for conduct that facilitates crimes of violence.”
The suspects all traveled up I-95 from the south, nicknamed the “Iron Pipeline” in law enforcement communities for the amount of legally purchased guns it transports to be sold on the streets of New York. A whopping 70 percent of the guns recovered at New York crime scenes are traced back to southern states with lax gun laws, according to the District Attorney’s office.
“They come because people like this get together and figure out ways to exploit the system,” Gonzalez said. “They know what they’re doing. They are putting their profit above human life.”
Gonzalez said Thursday that authorities suspect there are more suppliers involved in the ring and they are working to identify them.
“This investigation is not over, there are more pieces to it,” he said.
This story first appeared on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.