One undercover officer bought 153 illegal guns — many of them loaded — during the past year and was so good at his job that sellers were falling over each other for his business, the police commissioner said Thursday.
The sting netted 20 suspects, and 17 have been arrested. The operation, dubbed "Phoenix," started last May after police learned of a man selling guns in the 75th Precinct in East New York, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. The investigation expanded to 11 other precincts and grew to include a web of suspects who often tried to sell to the undercover cop behind one another's back, Kelly said.
The weapons sold for about $900, and at least two of the guns recovered were linked to shooting deaths, he said. Kelly wouldn't elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation. Other weapons were believed to have been used in three separate shootings.
The guns were reported stolen from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, Kelly said. Those states have looser gun laws, and Kelly said many illegal weapons in New York come from those states.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has formed a national group aimed at getting illegal guns off the streets. He has been a fierce critic of gun stores with a record of selling weapons that later wind up in the hands of criminals. He has sued several of them in recent years for reckless conduct, driving several out of business.
Investigators are looking for three more suspects. District Attorney Charles Hynes said he will not take plea deals from any of them — either they plead guilty to the top charges in the 168-count indictment or they go to trial.
Kelly praised the work of the undercover detective, whom he did not name.
"He did a truly outstanding job," Kelly said. "We can't recognize him because of the dangerous nature of undercover work, particularly when it comes to buying loaded guns in the street."
The officer bought guns two to three times a week. Most of the recovered weapons were handguns, but the cache also included eight assault rifles.