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NYPD: Undercover raid leads to arrests, weapons seizure

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz announced on Wednesday a takedown of a gun trafficking ring that allegedly transported firearms between Queens County, New York and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Credit: Charlie Eckert

An NYPD undercover operation Wednesday led to the arrest of four people on weapons charges and 23 handguns confiscated in another effort to disrupt the “Iron Pipeline” used to smuggle firearms from the South, officials said.

The investigation began in September 2019 when an undercover officer in Queens bought a handgun and ammunition from one of the suspects. The probe snowballed in December when electronic surveillance ensnared the defendants in more extensive gun sales, said Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz.

A total of 13 gun deals involving the 23 firearms — which included 9 mm, .22-caliber and .40-caliber pistols — were carried out by the undercover cop. Officials said the lead detective on the case was ill with COVID-19 during the investigation but insisted on working. The officer, who wasn’t identified, also worked shortly after witnessing the birth of his child, Katz said.

During a news conference with NYPD officials, including Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison, Katz identified Jessica Heyliger, 35, of Jamaica, Queens, as one of the key defendants in the case. She was charged in a criminal complaint with criminal sale of a firearm in the first and second degree, conspiracy and other charges. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

The gun takedown came at a time — acknowledged by Katz Wednesday — when New York City has seen a disturbing spike in shootings. The increased bloodshed from guns has sparked a war of words between President Donald Trump, who has threatened to send federal agents to cities nationwide to quell violence, and New York politicians like Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr dated July 22, de Blasio wrote that New York City didn’t want federal agents sent in for law enforcement purposes.

“We do not consent. We object. Do not send the proposed agents and officers from the Department of Homeland Security or other federal agencies to New York City,” de Blasio wrote “They have not been requested. They are not needed. And they have proved to bring way more harm than good.”

DeBlasio was referring to the way federal agents in Portland, Oregon, appeared to exacerbate violence with demonstrators in recent days.

During a news briefing Wednesday, Cuomo had a less strident reaction, saying he had spoken to Trump by telephone. The president, Cuomo said, suggested he was considering sending federal agents to New York City to deal with crime. However, Cuomo said he told Trump things could be handled by local law enforcement.

Cuomo called his call with Trump a “good conversation” and they agreed to talk in the near future.

Later Wednesday, Trump announced that he will send federal agents into Chicago and Albuquerque.

In the Queens gun case, one of the defendants was identified as Laquan Benson, 36, of Richmond, Virginia, who was awaiting extradition from his home state, Katz said. Two other defendants were identified as Mitchell Myree, 36, of Jamaica and Sharod King, 32, of Woodside, Queens. Like Heyliger, King faces up to 25 years in prison upon conviction.

Mylee, who faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison if convicted, had bail set at $50,000 cash. 

The other defendants were held without bail.

With AP

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