An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story.
Illegal guns trafficked from Georgia to the New York City region have been used to kill Officer Brian Moore and at least five other NYPD members since 1996 and have been linked to thousands of additional criminal investigations in the region, records show.
At least 322 guns recovered during criminal probes on Long Island, and at least 2,755 in the five boroughs, have been traced back to Georgia from 2005 to 2014, according to federal, state and local gun-trace data reviewed by Newsday.
Among those NYPD officers killed by guns sold or stolen from stores in Georgia: Officer Kevin Gillespie, of Lindenhurst, in 1996; Dets. Rodney Andrews, of Queens, and James Nemorin, a Baldwin Harbor resident, in 2003; Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, both of Brooklyn, in December 2014; and Moore, a Massapequa native posthumously promoted to detective after being fatally shot May 2.
The cop killings are grim reminders of the dangers posed by guns smuggled north to New York from Southern states in general, and Georgia in particular, officials say.
Between 2006 and 2009, Georgia was the nation's leading source of guns recovered during criminal investigations in the rest of the country, records show.
In 2013 alone, 3,061 guns sold in Georgia were recovered in other states during criminal investigations -- about twice the national average, records show. Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina had comparable numbers in that year, records show.
Georgia state law does not require the reporting of stolen guns by victims and expressly prohibits local governments from publicly reporting such data.
"Georgia is a primary source of illegal handguns used in violence on Long Island and New York City, and this office's gun suppression team regularly encounters lethal weapons transported here from Georgia via Interstate 95," said Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota. "We see what easy access to these cheap, lethal firearms brings -- the murders of innocent citizens and the senseless murder of Officer Moore, as well as the assassinations of two NYPD officers last December in New York City."
Supporters of Georgia's gun laws say they help protect Americans' constitutional right to bear arms.
"Our state has some of the best protections for gun owners in the United States," Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said in April 2014 when he signed the Safe Carry Protection Act, a law that allows licensed gun owners to bring a firearm into bars, as well as some government facilities, schools and houses of worship. "And today we strengthen those rights protected by our nation's most revered founding document."
To buy a gun from a licensed dealer in Georgia, a purchaser needs to show state identification and pass a background check. But no identification, background check or other documentation is required to buy guns from private, unlicensed sellers, either online or in person.
"It's a good system because it allows me to do what I like with my property," said John Bishop, 61, a private gun seller in Marietta , Georgia. "I can sell a firearm to whoever I choose. It's a purchase like any other kind."
He said of private sellers: "All we require for a purchase is money."
Most illegal guns recovered on Long Island and in the five boroughs are first sold legally in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, in states like Georgia that require neither background checks nor permits for private sales and place no limit on the number of guns a buyer can purchase, authorities say.
Such guns are typically purchased by straw buyers, who purchase guns in Southern states at the behest of gang members, drug dealers and gun traffickers, then return to the city and Long Island with car trunks full of legally purchased weapons, authorities say.
The dangers of Georgia-to-New York gun rings were highlighted in April 2013, when Suffolk authorities arrested a Middle Island couple and a Georgia man suspected of running a firearms smuggling operation. The trio met at Long Island hotels and a gas station to exchange nearly $50,000 worth of handguns and rifles over six months, prosecutors said.
The Georgia gunrunner arrested in that case, Joshua Galbert, is serving a 10-year sentence for criminal sale of a firearm, records show.
But hundreds of other illegal gun dealers remain active across the Eastern Seaboard, plying their wares up and down the coast, officials say.
"They get paid for their services and report the guns as lost or stolen, but the guns actually go to the bad guys who paid for them," said a federal law enforcement official, who formerly worked undercover on gun-trafficking cases in New York and spoke on condition of anonymity. "They can sell them at a 100 or 200 percent markup, so a $200 weapon can be sold on the street for $400 or $600. It's very lucrative, if you're willing to take the risk."
Moore, a graduate of Plainedge High School, was slain with a .38-caliber Taurus five-shooter stolen from Little's Bait & Tackle Pawn Shop in Perry, Georgia, on Oct. 3, 2011, police said. The revolver was among 23 guns stolen from the shop, and the ninth to be recovered so far in New York City.
Gun thefts like the one at Little's are responsible for thousands of additional guns flooding the U.S. black market for firearms each year, officials say.
"The gun goes from one criminal to another and another, usually until someone is killed with that gun," the official said. "And Georgia is where it all begins, in many cases."
"The fact that the gun used to kill NYPD Officer Brian Moore came from Georgia, one of the nation's top crime gun exporters, demonstrates how states like Georgia with weak gun laws are fueling an iron pipeline of guns into all American communities," said Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-reform group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
With strict gun control laws already in place in New York State, advocates for tougher measures say legislators in other states and the federal government must take action, such as requiring background checks for all gun sales.
"It is all too clear that lax federal laws that allow the purchase of guns without background checks are helping to fuel the iron pipeline," said acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, using the nickname for south-to-north gunrunning routes.
Jacob Ramos, 36, of Atlanta, whose brother Mark was convicted of selling illegal guns in suburban Georgia in 2012, said, "In Georgia and the states [nearby], buying guns is just something you do without thinking. They're worth a little bit here, but get them up to New York and you can make some real money. A lot of people like my brother find out, it's not worth it."
He added: "When a cop gets killed, you see how doing business like that can really hurt innocent people."
Officers killed with illegal guns
Among the NYPD officers killed by guns sold or stolen from stores in Georgia:
Kevin Gillespie, of Lindenhurst, was fatally shot in the Bronx by a carjacker on March 14, 1996. The 9 mm handgun used to kill him was manufactured at the Glock Inc. plant in Smyrna, purchased in metro Atlanta, and illegally sold to a Jamaican street gang in New York.
Dets. Rodney Andrews of Queens and James Nemorin, of Baldwin Harbor, were fatally shot while working undercover on Staten Island in 2003. The .44-caliber handgun used to kill them was first sold in 1993 at a store in Decatur, Georgia.
Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, both of Brooklyn, were fatally shot in December with a semiautomatic pistol purchased legally from a pawn shop in Jonesboro, Georgia.
Officer Brian Moore, of Massapequa, who was posthumously promoted to detective, was fatally shot May 2 with a revolver stolen from Little's Bait & Tackle Pawn Shop in Perry, Georgia, in 2011.
Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.
The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.
We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.
In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.
Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.
The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources. In this story, Newsday could not locate: Jacob Ramos and his brother, Mark, and John Bishop. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.
Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:
Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and Ancestry.com and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.
Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.
On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.
Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.
Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.
Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”
“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”
During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.
Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.
Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.
Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission. If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.