Two suspected leaders of a gun ring involving 217 guns bought in Virginia to be sold in New York City had previously been convicted of armed violent crimes in Virginia.
Damian King, 27, of Bristow and Levar Shelborne, 29, of Richmond allegedly bought guns in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas and moved them north on Interstate 95, through the “Iron Pipeline,” to sell on the streets of New York’s Brooklyn borough, according to New York authorities. They were charged, along with 22 others mostly from Richmond, in a 627-count indictment announced Wednesday. It was the biggest gun bust in Brooklyn’s history.
King, who also goes by the nickname “Havoc,” was convicted in Henrico County of malicious wounding and gang participation in 2006. He served seven years in prison.
In an incident from December 2015, he was charged with armed burglary, malicious wounding, use of a firearm and shooting into an occupied dwelling. He’s currently set to go to trial in April, but the process has been delayed several times — presumably because of the pending charges in New York.
Shelborne, also known as “Wavy Boy,” was convicted in 2007 of wounding 16-year-old Timothy Johnson, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in Richmond. Shelborne pleaded guilty to aggravated malicious wounding, use of a firearm and shooting from a vehicle and served eight years in prison.
In September, Shelborne was arrested in Hanover County after he allegedly used two young people as straw purchasers of an AR-15 assault-style rifle from Green Top Sporting Goods — the only gun store mentioned by name in the New York indictment and one of the top sellers of firearms in Virginia.
According to U.S. District Court records in Richmond, agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives watched the alleged straw purchasers leave the store and drive off in a vehicle that followed a vehicle driven by Shelborne. Shelborne stopped at a nearby Goodwill Industries store on U.S. Route 1 where he took the rifle from the back seat of the vehicle occupied by the purchasers.
He was charged in Hanover with being a violent felon in possession of a weapon. A plea is expected in April, according to online court records.
Dwayne Lamont Rawlings, 30, of Hampton, who was cited in the indictment as a supplier, pleaded guilty in 2010 to attempted malicious wounding in Hampton. U.S. Marshals in Norfolk are still searching for Rawlings, who is a fugitive.
Two others indicted in New York still remain fugitives in the Richmond area, according to Supervisory Inspector Kevin Connolly with the U.S. Marshals. They are: Cameron Fobbs, 20, of Richmond, and Antwan "Twan" Walker, 21, of Highland Springs.
Fobbs evaded Marshals last week by jumping from a second story apartment window in Richmond and escaping on foot, Connolly said in an email. If anyone has information about Fobbs or Walker, called the U.S. Marshals tip line at 1-877-WANTED-2 (1-877-926-8332). There could be a cash reward for information leading to their arrests.
Walter Alston, 29; Malyk Hawthorne, 21; Michael Vordjorbe, 21; Antoine Smyre, 28; and Donald Houston, 27, all of Richmond, have been arrested, the U.S. Marshals Service said Friday. Hawthorne, identified as a co-conspirator in the gun ring, currently has charges pending in Henrico General District Court. The charges are strangulation, which is a felony, and assault, destruction of property and petit larceny, all misdemeanors.
The defendants were allegedly associated with the Bloods gang, the district attorney’s office said. One group worked out of Richmond and Henrico, the other out of Hampton and Newport News before collecting enough guns to make a trip by car or bus to New York for resale.
Many of the purchases were made legally in Virginia, but laws were broken when straw purchases were made on behalf of others or the guns crossed into New York for resale. It is unclear whether Virginia officials also are investigating any of the purchases made here.
New York state has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and New York City’s are even tougher, making it a lucrative market for those in Southern states, where the laws on gun purchases are more lenient. One official said 90 percent of guns used in crimes in New York City come from out of state, and historically Virginia has been the largest supplier of guns recovered there, according to data from the ATF.
Several of those charged were overheard on wiretaps mocking Virginia’s gun laws, prompting former and current lawmakers to weigh in, many of them calling for the reinstatement of a repealed rule that limited handgun purchases to one per month.
“It’s ridiculous that we now have gun runners on tape bragging about how lax Virginia’s laws are and how easy it is for them to get all the guns they want,” said Attorney General Mark R. Herring. “We shouldn’t be so naïve to think these guns are just exported to other states. I have no doubt that schemes like this put guns on the streets here in Virginia that can easily find their way into the hands of criminals and threaten the safety of our communities and police officers. It’s way past time for the General Assembly to take the common-sense measures that Virginians widely support to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, like one handgun a month and universal background checks.”
In 1993, when the one-handgun-a-month bill was enacted, L. Douglas Wilder was governor and gun-running was a major problem along the East Coast. Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a bill repealing the law in 2012.
Asked Thursday about the New York cases and the law he helped pass in 1993, Wilder said: “This didn’t just get to be a problem today, or when the ATF made its raid, or this week or last week.”
“We’ve had 13 murders in Richmond this year, and that doesn’t even include March,” Wilder said. “The question is — this was a problem; it needed to be fixed; it was fixed — is there any effort being made to correct it (now)?
“If you want to take the one-gun-a-month bill and bury it forever, what do you have in its place, and who is proposing anything in its place and if not, why not?” he asked. “This is not a Richmond problem or a Virginia problem. This is a national problem.”
In a social media post, Wilder said the law “did not restrict ownership, nor did it interfere with hunting, and most importantly, it did not violate the constitutional right to bear arms,” which he said he supports.
Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and a Republican who co-chaired the commission that led to the abolition of parole in Virginia, also supported the one-gun-a-month law. Cullen, now chairman of McGuireWoods LLP, one of the nation’s largest law firms, was in New York on Wednesday when the announcement of the gun bust was made by the Brooklyn district attorney; his presence there was a coincidence.
“The premise behind the legislation was simple economics. If the gun traffickers could only get their hands on one gun, there is no way they can make a profit. When they have an unlimited supply, their profits soar,” Cullen said Thursday.
He said it was only intended as one tool to help curb violent crime that included the abolition of parole and the targeting of repeat violent offenders for longer prison terms.
“I’m realistic enough to know the climate is different now. When we did this back in 1992, it was a different political climate, so I don’t expect that the legislature any time soon would pass a limitation on the number of firearms that can be purchased,” Cullen said.