Gun Ring Busted

7 charged with stealing in 'burbs, selling in city

Posted: July 19, 2007

FOR A WHILE there, the seven savvy young thieves appeared to be running a flawless illegal gun-trafficking ring.

During the daytime, they staked out posh houses in Montgomery, Berks and Chester counties.

When the homeowners predictably headed off to work, the crooks pounced in prolific fashion.

From November to June, they pulled off 40 heists, stole 48 guns and more than $100,000 worth of jewelry and personal belongings, authorities said.

But when it was time to make some real money, authorities said, the burglars came to Philadelphia - home to 222 homicides and a full-fledged gun violence epidemic - to sell off most of their stolen firearms.

Yesterday, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor announced the good news: The burglars, who included one North Philly man, were all behind bars, arraigned on charges of robbery and weapons violations.

But Castor also acknowledged some bad news. About 30 guns - ranging from Glocks to AK-47s - were sold in the city and in Norristown before a multipronged team of state and local cops could bring down the gun-trafficking ring.

"It's troubling. They were sold first, and they're still out there somewhere," Castor said.

At least 12 of the weapons were sold in North Philly by the crew's local connection - Miguel Cabrera, 26, of Franklin Street near Indiana Avenue, said District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

"He sold the guns to drug dealers, usually for $500 apiece or more, and split the money with his cohorts," Abraham said.

"Most of them were Glocks and pistols, the typical guns you see in the city," she said. "But he was also selling bigger stuff, like M-16s and AK-47s."

Investigators recovered 15 of the stolen weapons, including shotguns and rifles, from Cabrera's house on Franklin Street. Two other stolen firearms were found in a home in Lower Providence Township.

"I'd like to be able to say I'm shocked, but actually, we are a magnet for this kind of activity," Abraham said.

"They came to Philadelphia to sell because it's the perfect place to dump guns. It's infuriating."

It was only last month that investigators found out that Cabrera and his cohorts were selling in Philly, Abraham said.

Before then, the investigation was focused in the suburbs where the mostly 20-something gun-trafficking crew wreaked havoc.

According to a court affidavit, the thieves, led by Kenneth Gatlin, 22, of Schwenksville, Pa., kicked off their crime spree by stealing a .25-caliber Beretta and a 9mm Star handgun from a home in Montgomery County.

From there, with Gatlin calling the shots, the crew blossomed, Castor said.

In one incident, they took 15 guns from a home in Lower Providence Township, according to the court affidavit.

Another time out, the court affidavit said, the crew stole more than $88,000 worth of jewelry, cash, clothing and electronics from a home in Montgomery County.

"Over time, the State Police started to notice a pattern, that these same communities were being plagued over and over again," said Risa Vetri Ferman, the Montgomery County first assistant district attorney.

The crew regularly funneled stolen weapons back to Gatlin, who took them to Norristown and Philadelphia to be sold on the streets, Ferman said.

Investigators learned that Gatlin was bragging about his crimes and eventually set up surveillance on him and the rest of his squad, Ferman said.

On June 11, Philadelphia police stopped a car in North Philly that contained Gatlin, Cabrera and another one of their cohorts, James Morgenstern, 22. According to the court affidavit, police then searched Cabrera's house on Franklin Street and recovered 15 weapons.

A computer search found that the weapons had been stolen earlier in the day in Montgomery County, the affidavit said.

At that point, Castor said, Philly police linked up with the larger investigation, which included the state attorney general's Gun Violence Task Force, State Police and a number of smaller law enforcement agencies.

Throughout last month, cops apprehended the rest of the burglary crew, including: Andrew Callen of Eagleville; Ryan Callen of Collegeville; Lazarus Diaz of Eagleville; and Denise Yostin, of Phoenixville.

Castor said that if convicted, each of the alleged crooks could face more than 20 years in prison.

The fact that the gun-trafficking ring had a significant presence in Philadelphia did not surprise local police.

"Clearly, it speaks to the proliferation of handguns on the street today and the carnage that can result," said Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross.

"These burglaries were committed in other counties, but we have to deal with the ill effects of the guns ending up on our streets," he said. "Bottom line is that people have to take their blinders off. Guns are not just a Philadelphia problem. They can affect a lot of folks beyond the boundaries of our city." *

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