They had nicknames such as “Tall Man,” “Zebra Girl,” “Choppers” and “Line.”
Police say they talked and texted about buying guns in Rock Hill and selling them in New York. Despite many having spent time in prison for drug convictions, burglaries and more, they bragged about the easy access to South Carolina guns that could be peddled for big money in New York, where weapons laws are strict.
The eight people from Rock Hill are accused of buying guns in York County from stores or on the streets, then their ringleaders taking the guns on buses to New York and selling them.
The problem – and it was a big problem – came when the buyers in New York turned out to be not gangsters bent on using the guns for crime, but informants and cops.
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The arrest in August of 19 people and the seizure of more than 250 weapons in Manhattan and Brooklyn turned out to be the largest single seizure of illegal weapons in a long history of big New York City weapons busts. Seven of the eight people accused of gunrunning from Rock Hill are scheduled to appear in New York courtrooms Monday.
All of them have pleaded not guilty to hundreds of charges, including simple possession, illegal gun sales and criminal conspiracy.
The case against them alleges a monthslong “Iron Pipeline” of machine guns and automatic weapons flowing one way – north. The arrests of several police say were the masterminds of the scheme stunned even the suspects’ parents, who say they have no knowledge of the gunrunning or big money being made.
“We always knew there were some gun thefts here that may have ended up with the guns in other places, but we never had before the (level of) gunrunning that this was,” said Sgt. Allen Cantey of the York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit, which assisted state, federal and New York police in the investigation and arrests.
“It was the scale here, the number of guns.”
The allegations include crimes so brazen that police and prosecutors say one Rock Hill suspect, Kendall Danielle “Zebra Girl” Jones, 23, tried to assemble a Norinco SKS assault rifle by watching a cellphone video while standing on a Chinatown street corner in the middle of the day. Jones faces five felony gun charges. She is being held without bond at a New York jail. She will not be in court on Monday; her next court date is Feb. 13, according to court records.
The man police say was the ringleader of the Rock Hill crew, Earl “Tall Man” Campbell, 24, allegedly sold 90 guns for $75,000 in two dozen meetings with undercover police and informants. Campbell, Jones’ boyfriend, has been denied bond after he was on suicide watch following his arrest. He faces 238 felony charges and life in prison. Police and prosecutors say Campbell repeatedly took a bus to New York carrying bags filled with guns.
Another Rock Hill defendant, convicted felon Larick “Line” Michaux, 26, faces 49 charges. He tried to sell weapons in New York himself, police say, because he wanted more than a finder’s fee. In statements captured by court-approved police wiretaps, he told Campbell he was upset that Campbell was getting the lion’s share of the money.
Campbell told Michaux to “stop complaining,” according to court documents obtained by The Herald, because Campbell was taking the risks.
Michaux’s older sister, Warquisha “Choppers” Michaux, 29, facing 15 felony charges related to gun sales, referred to bullets that were bought and sold as “cop killers,” police and prosecutors say. A text message police say Warquisha Michaux sent to Campbell said about prices for bullets: “LOL dats wat I paid 4 tha shells damN near 50 these cop killers...”
Four other people from Rock Hill – Chris Hill, 23, Brandon Potts, 23, Arthur Barber, 27, and Marcel Dyess, 21 – also face felony charges on accusations they supplied Campbell and Michaux with guns to be sold.
The prosecution of the eight Rock Hill defendants in New York is being handled by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors there have declined to comment on the pending cases or what might happen in court Monday, but an office spokesperson did confirm all eight Rock Hill defendants are scheduled to be there.
Campbell’s lawyer, Ralph Cherchian of New York, could not be reached. Adam Konta, the court-appointed attorney for Larick Michaux, said in a brief telephone interview that prosecutors still have not given him the evidence in the case. Other than reiterating that Michaux has pleaded not guilty, Konta declined to comment further.
The seizure of guns and arrests in August shocked people in New York and South Carolina as it showed how easy access to weapons in both South Carolina and North Carolina can lead to guns for aspiring criminals in New York. Although it is impossible to know if the monthslong sting and arrests dried up the “Iron Pipeline,” police have not made similar seizures since.
Cantey, the York County drug unit sergeant, and drug unit supervisor Marvin Brown both said there have been no other cases since of gunrunning that come near the scale of the New York pipeline.
So even though there is no proof that the August arrests changed the gunrunning culture, it appears the bust has finally put a dent in the gun trade locally. And, depending on what happens starting Monday, the first links in that chain of guns could start to break loose without another person getting shot or killed.
“That is a good thing for the people of York County,” Brown said.