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Three Men Face Charges of Manufacturing and Trafficking Ghost Guns

From a press release

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, Homeland Security Investigations (Philadelphia) Special Agent in Charge William S. Walker and Hatfield Township Police Chief William Tierney announce the arrest of Tony Phan Ho, 32, and Rithga Ngoy, 36, both of Hatfield; and Michael Phan Nguyen, 32, of Lansdale, on gun trafficking charges related to manufacturing ghost guns and suppressors (silencers) as well as illegal sales of those items.

The investigation into this gun trafficking organization began in May 2023, when a shipment of firearm suppressor component parts from China was intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at JFK International Airport in New York. The shipment of suppressor parts was being shipped to defendant Ho at his home address in Hatfield. Ho is legally precluded from possessing a firearm, which includes suppressors/silencers.

Homeland Security Investigations contacted the Montgomery County Detective Bureau and Hatfield Police in early July 2023, and together detectives and an HSI agent spoke with Ho at his residence, then obtained a search warrant for his residence and a shed workshop where Ho was manufacturing firearms.

Tony Ho

Searching of Ho’s property, detectives allegedly found all of the tools needed to privately manufacture firearms, numerous AR-15 rifle parts, firearm sights, firearm sight tools, a Polymer80 tool kit, weapon mounted lights, a Glock pistol barrel, a Sig Sauer 320P modular grip frame, assorted other firearms parts, a 3D printer and ammunition, officials said.

The investigators also found numerous photos of completed firearms and partially made firearms in Ho’s cellphone as well as several videos of firearms, including one that  showed Ho lying in his backdoor frame firing an AR-15-style rifle with a silencer attached out into his residence’s backyard.

Michael Nyugen

Also found within the cellphone were communications between the three defendants and others unnamed regarding the availability and sales of the firearms made by Ho and the attempted illegal purchase of a firearm from a gun store by Nguyen. The captured communications identified 15 illegal firearm sales dating back to March 2020.

Ahead of the interview with law enforcement and search of Ho’s residence, Ho asked his co-conspirator Ngoy to take his firearms so the firearms would not be in Ho’s residence. Ngoy later turned in to Hatfield Police the multiple firearms parts and the 15 functioning firearms that he was holding for Ho—14 of which were ghosts guns or privately-made completed firearms.

“The items found at Ho’s residence, the photos of numerous privately made firearms taken at his residence and the quantity of firearms parts that Ho bought online clearly show that he was manufacturing a significant number of privately made firearms and silencers on site,” said DA Kevin Steele. “The true extent of his firearms manufacturing business—as well as the extent of the criminal activities those firearms were then used in—may never be known, especially since privately made firearms have no serial numbers. These ghost guns are a great danger to the safety of our communities.”

Rithga Ngoy

Ho is charged with corrupt organization, conspiracy, person not to possess a firearm, illegal firearms sales, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, materially false statements, statement under penalty, criminal use of a communications facility, make/repair/sell offensive weapons and other firearms charges.

Ngoy is charged with corrupt organization, conspiracy, illegal firearms sales, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, and criminal use of a communications facility and other firearms charges.

Nguyen is charged with corrupt organization, conspiracy, illegal firearms sales, dealing in the proceeds of unlawful activities, and criminal use of a communications facility and other firearms charges.

Ho and Ngoy were arrested and arraigned Aug. 28, 2023, before Magisterial District Judge Michael P. Quinn, who set bail at $250,000 cash for each defendant. Nguyen turned himself in to police and was arraigned Aug. 28, 2023, before Quinn, who set bail at $75,000 10 percent. During a bail review hearing on Aug. 28, 2021, Court of Common Pleas Judge William R. Carpenter did not change the defendants’ bail amounts. As a condition of bail, each defendant also had to surrender his passport and may not possess a firearm. The defendants were unable to make bail and were remanded to the Montgomery County Correctional Facility.

A preliminary hearing for all three defendants is scheduled for 9 a.m., Sept. 13, 2023, before Magisterial District Judge Edward Levine. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Samantha Arena.

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Bucks, Montco DAs Announce Arrests in Gun Trafficking Ring

Twenty-year-old Clayton Robinson of Glenside is the alleged mastermind behind a multi-county gun trafficking ring, where guns were bought by straw purchasers, stripped of their serial numbers, and then sold for cash or bartered for drugs, Delaware Valley officials said Thursday.

The gun ring is also said to have stolen some of the firearms they traded.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele and Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub were on hand with Abington Police Chief Patrick Molloy and numerous officers and detectives for a press conference announcing the arrests. The six guns that police and detectives had seized were on display. However, there are at least 34 guns involved in the scheme, with more likely, said Steele, who added the investigation is ongoing.

Robinson and his crew also sold guns with “switches” they had made to change the firing action from semiautomatic to fully automatic.

“It’s going to fire the entire number of bullets that are in that gun,” said Steele.

Abington Police Chief Patrick Malloy, Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele, and Bucks DA Matt Weintraub discuss gun ring arrests.

Robinson’s two brothers, Julian Robinson, 31, and Kenneth Robinson, 18, were also involved, said Steele.

“This was a true family business,” said Weintraub. “And the product was illegally purchased firearms.”

Clayton Robinson said in a message found by detectives, “I’m not trying to end up in a tri-county tooling ring. Feel me.”

“That’s exactly what these individuals have done,” said Steele. “Tool” is slang for gun.

Clayton Robinson was found in possession of an illegal gun and “this led us to all of these other straw purchases,” he said.

As well as officers and detectives in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, investigators worked with the ATF, FBI, and Attorney General’s Office he said.

“We looked through the electronic record of sales (EROS) and ATF and Pennsylvania state gun sales forms,” he said. At gun stores, cellphone downloads, social media posts, and surveillance, he said.

The straw purchase buyers were allegedly Joseph Lynch, 25 of Morrisville, who purchased 17 guns between November 17, 2020, and March 15, 2021; Maurice Baker IV, 23, of Levittown, who purchased 12 guns between May 12, 2021, and December 31, 2021, and Brett Portner, 22, of Jenkintown, who bought five guns between Jan. 11, 2021, and Feb. 3, 2022.

“Straw purchases of guns for people not allowed to purchase them is dangerous, and is dangerous to our communities,” said Steele. “That is why we are emphasizing these investigations and will continue to investigate.”

Photographs of Clayton Robinson holding one of the guns and also a video of him grinding the serial number off of it were displayed.

“This (video) was made because he’s letting his customers know he’s taking the serial numbers off these guns,” said Steele.

“Quite frankly, we appreciate the very strong evidence he has provided to us,” said Steele.  Also, there was a text message from Clayton Robinson saying, “Come drop me off a pistol, too. I really got to stay dangerous.”

Steele asked anyone who knows where the other guns are to come forward before SWAT officers raid their homes. The guns can be turned in anonymously through their lawyers.

Weintraub said several of the firearms were found through car stops by police in Bensalem, Yardley, and Middletown and praised the “great police work” involved.

“Thank God for criminals who like to show off,” said Weintraub.

“The vast majority of these guns were purchased seemingly legally in Bucks County,” he said. But 28 guns “are still out there in the hands of criminals, who intend to terrorize, maim, hurt and kill. This is unacceptable…Something has to be done about this.”

“Fighting illegal gun trafficking is our top priority in Bucks County,” said Weintraub. “We are all in on this.”

Clayton Robinson, a suspect, removing a serial number from a gun.

Several gun stores in Bucks County had sold the guns to the straw purchasers and are cooperating with authorities, he said.

“This is a scourge. Drugs and guns go hand and hand and we know that” he said. “The combination is not only dangerous. It’s deadly. And it’s proliferating.”

Weintraub said a lot of law enforcement agencies are working together.

“It’s all hands on deck to eradicate this scourge,” he said.

Asked if the guns were used in other crimes, Steele said some were, including in Idaho and Massachusetts.

The suspects made small amounts of money or traded the guns for drugs, said Steele.

“This is people making not a lot of money, hundreds of dollars, and now they’re facing five-year mandatory sentences for a small amount of money and a small amount of drugs. If anyone thinks it’s worth it, they’re sadly mistaken,” Steele said.

“People were placing orders (for guns),” Steele added.

“The five men were operating a corrupt organization,” said Steele. “When you talk about straw purchases, individuals who can legally buy guns were buying them and putting them in the hands of criminals.”

When someone does this more than once it is a 5-year mandatory sentence under the Brad Fox Law, named for a police officer who was killed with a firearm bought through a straw purchase, said Steele.

The five men face multiple charges, including conspiracy, unlawful purchase of firearms, and criminal use of communication facilities, said Steele.

“We’ve got this epidemic of gun violence,” said Malloy. “When you think of Abington, Montgomery County being five short miles away from one of the most violent neighborhoods in our country and for us in Abington our officers during car stops are witnessing more guns…often it starts by good proactive policing.”

Abington Police had a search warrant for Robinson’s house and used a drone to find a gun that he had hidden on his roof, said Steele.

“Just because we haven’t tied any of these guns to any homicides, there is no doubt if we were not out there doing this work, then one of these guns would be responsible for taking the life of someone,” said Malloy.

Steele said if one of the trafficked guns is found to have been used in a homicide or shooting the sentencing judges for the defendants will be informed of that fact.

The affidavit of probable cause said the ring members were involved in a “gun trafficking operation.”

“The purpose of this corrupt organization was to illegally obtain and distribute numerous firearms to others,” it said. The ring members “conspired to purchase firearms illegally, making materially false statements on the application/record of sale and then illegally transferring the firearms.”

While most of the members of the straw purchase gun ring are in custody, authorities are seeking Lynch, who is on the lam and may be in Kentucky.

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