Three Plymouth Meeting residents among those arrested in connection to gun trafficking ring

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, Montgomery Township Police Chief Scott Bendig, Plymouth Township Police Chief John C. Myrsiades, and Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Joseph Altieri announced today 12 arrests in connection to a 14-person gun trafficking ring, including three Plymouth Meeting residents. Two of the 14 remain at large.

The Plymouth Meeting residents arrested were 22-year-old Quinn Whisted, 20-year-old Alexander Smith, and 24-year-old Kristen Owens. Whisted is believed to have purchased 17 firearms for the ring. Smith and Owens are described in the announcement as two of the leaders of the organization.

Overall the ring is believed to have illegally obtained and resold 31 firearms via “straw purchases” in Montgomery and nearby counties, plus dealt with the sale of “ghost guns.”

A “straw purchase” is when a person without a criminal record purchases a firearm for the purpose of providing it to another person in an effort to conceal the true owner of the firearm.

“Ghost guns” can be anything from handguns to rifles that are made from firearm assembly kits, which can be purchased online or at gun shows. The purchaser of an assembly kit does not have to undergo a background check. The assembled firearms do not have a serial number and lack traceability. A number of states have made ghost guns illegal, however, they are legal in Pennsylvania.

Officials report that of the 29 straw purchases identified through this investigation, six have been recovered.

From the announcement:

This investigation began when Montgomery County Detectives were investigating another gun trafficking organization charged in September 2020. In the course of that investigation, detectives performed a network analysis of those defendants in order to identify other illegal firearms and their gun trafficking networks. That analysis led to identifying this gun trafficking organization, its many operatives and its illegally purchased and transferred firearms, which was not connected to the other organization.

From there, law enforcement began following the multiple purchases of firearms by Whisted through the Electronic Record of Sale (EROS) system and through hard copies of ATF and Pennsylvania State Police forms at gun stores. Detectives used surveillance, interviews, information from law enforcement agencies, call detail records and cellphone downloads, social media analysis, inspection of forms used in purchasing firearms and other methods of investigation. The investigation led them to identify three other straw purchasers, in addition to Whisted, as well as 10 other defendants involved in the illegal gun trafficking organization. One of those 10 defendants—Alexander Smith—was also purchasing “ghost gun” materials from websites and assembling the guns, then offering them for sale.

“This group of people was acting together with the sole purchase of making money by putting firearms in the hands of people who cannot lawfully buy and possess guns, in effect arming criminals,” said Steele. “Straw purchases and the sale of those guns to people who cannot buy their own firearm legally are dangerous to the safety of all of our communities, and ‘ghost guns’ are just as dangerous, if not more. Gun trafficking is a significant threat to public safety and should concern every law-abiding citizen.”

The defendants were arrested on various criminal charges, but all include felony counts of Corrupt Organizations and Conspiracy. Other charges include Dealing in Proceeds of Unlawful Activities, Unlawful Transfer of a Firearm, Criminal Use of Communications Facilities, Materially False Statements, and multiple related offenses.

Twelve of the 14 defendants will be arraigned and bail was set this morning before Magisterial District Judge Edward C. Kropp, at which time the preliminary hearing for these defendants will be scheduled.

The case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Lauren Marvel, who is Captain of the Pottstown Community Justice Unit, and Assistant District Attorney Samantha Arena of the Firearms Unit.