Nine Paterson residents and six South Carolina residents were were indicted on charges of racketeering, conspiracy, and weapons offenses in connection with a criminal operation that allegedly transported more than 120 guns into New Jersey for illegal sale here.
At least two of the alleged outlaw firearms dealers have been previously charged as killers but authorities have not said why they were not incarcerated at the time of the latest crimes.
The New Jersey State Police (NJSP) say the alleged point man in the illegal operation, Travis Thomas, 41, of Lamar, South Carolina, is also charged with first-degree leader of a firearms trafficking network, first-degree promoting organized street crime, and more than two dozen weapons offenses.
NJSP detectives arrested Thomas on December 10, 2021, as he arrived in New Jersey from South Carolina with an assault rifle, semiautomatic pistol, and revolver in his possession.
Authorities say Thomas orchestrated the sale of the illegal firearms through Yaquin Perry, 37, Marquetta Wilson, 33, William Thomas, 40, Kamar Walker, 21, Tyquan Evans, 38, Kyziek McCaskill, 33, Karie Washington, 28, Neilzhon Williams, 23, and Kyeem Dowell, 26, all of Paterson, NJ.
The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by NJSP with assistance from the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that dismantled the criminal enterprise, took 12 guns off the street – including an assault rifle – and led to charges against the alleged leader of the trafficking ring, five of his gun suppliers in South Carolina, and nine “middlemen” who allegedly helped broker the sale of guns in Paterson.
The alleged South Carolina gun suppliers are Jaquon McCoy, 32, Christopher Johnson, 41, Ralph Antonio Ervin, 31, Vinson M. Ervin, 32, all of Lamar, SC; and Dontrel Nashon Scott, 23, of Timmonsville, SC
A 39-count indictment handed up by a State Grand Jury on October 21 charges all 15 defendants with first-degree racketeering, second-degree conspiracy to transport guns into the state for unlawful sale or transfer, and various other offenses related to illegal weapons trafficking from December 2018 to December 2021.
According to documents filed in the case and statements made in court, Thomas, allegedly organized and directed various individuals in South Carolina to procure guns for him to transport and sell in NJ.
Thomas would reach out to his suppliers to ask what firearms they could get for him, and they would obtain the guns through street buys from other individuals.
Thomas would then send photos of the firearms to his middlemen in Paterson and tell them how much money he was charging for each gun. Thomas routinely sold guns in New Jersey for three times what he had paid for them in South Carolina.
The middlemen would then shop the photos around Paterson for buyers, increasing the prices to ensure their own profit.
Three of the guns allegedly trafficked into Paterson by Thomas were later found in the possession of individuals under arrest on narcotics distribution charges. A fourth gun was used in the attempted robbery of a ride-share driver in Paterson and was recovered by police when the gunman left it behind at the scene.
According to evidence obtained in the investigation, Thomas had purchased an AR-15 assault rifle in South Carolina for $400 and planned to sell it to a buyer in Paterson for $2200.
A full review of communications on Thomas’s cellphone and Facebook account that were obtained with search warrants showed two years of text messages and Facebook Messenger conversations related to the firearms trafficking enterprise.
Through the investigation, police identified the defendants allegedly operating as gun buyers in South Carolina or as middlemen in Paterson.
All of the defendants, with the exception of Scott, who is being sought as a fugitive, were arrested by NJSP on various dates from March to November, 2022.
Of the 14 defendants taken into custody, all but Dowell, Wilson, and Williams are being detained.
Perry was reportedly detained in Passaic County Jail on previous attempted murder charges for his alleged role in the 2013 shooting of a 33-year-old man at the corner of Highland and Sparrow streets in Paterson.
“Trafficked guns undermine the strong laws New Jersey has enacted to keep its residents safe from the carnage of gun violence,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “It didn’t take long for weapons allegedly trafficked into Paterson by these defendants to make their way into the hands of individuals engaged in criminal conduct, including an armed robbery.”
“This indictment reflects the unwavering commitment on the part of law enforcement to investigate and disrupt the networks that traffic guns into our communities with tragic consequences,” said Pearl Minato, director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “The ringleader of this enterprise was buying guns cheap from his home state South Carolina, and selling them for top dollar in Paterson, where he had ties to the community.”
On April 22, 2014, Evans was arrested by New Jersey State Police on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm, distribution of heroin, three violations of probation, and several additional criminal counts. On February 5, 2015, the state dismissed the charges in favor of federal prosecution but court records show he remained in state custody until April 2015.
On April 13, 2015, the state Superior Court Judge Donna Gallucio ordered that Evans’ probation be terminated and two days later, federal Magistrate Judge Steven C. Mannion sentenced him to a prison term of 92 months, which would have made him eligible for release on or about December 15, 2022 but Judge William J. Martini, a former Republican congressman, credited him with time served despite his revoked probation.
“The only thing he cared about was making money and he did it at the expense of everyone living in the communities where his guns wound up,” said Minato. “We will continue to investigate and aggressively prosecute those who profit by illegally flooding New Jersey with weapons that maim and kill.”
“For three years, these defendants allegedly attempted to profit by illegally transporting more than 120 guns into New Jersey and circumvented the legal process that has been enacted to protect the residents of this state by ensuring that these weapons do not fall into the wrong hands,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “As a result of the collaborative efforts by our detectives and partners, we were able to bring this operation to an end.”
“The takedown of this criminal network represents our commitment to targeting illegal gun traffickers, and these indictments deliver the message that anyone responsible for bringing illegal weapons into our communities will be held accountable,” said Callahan.
“ATF remains committed to preventing the trafficking of firearms to violent criminals and into our communities,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Bryan R. Miller. “As demonstrated by the arrests in this joint investigation, we will continue to work alongside our partners at all levels to disrupt the shooting cycle and combat grave threats to public safety.”