NYC ghost gun operation investigation uncovers pandemic assistance fraud and burglary crimes: DA Bragg

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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Thursday announced the indictment of 18 individuals, many of them city employees, for allegedly manufacturing ghost guns with 3D printers, while also defrauding the pandemic unemployment assistance program, and ultimately burglarizing a residence.

The DA told reporters during a press conference that the investigation started with ghost guns but led to the discovery of fraud and burglary.

"As alleged, the takedown of a sophisticated ghost gun manufacturing operation uncovered wide-ranging schemes, including the link to a massive fraud and a planned burglary," Bragg said. "These alleged schemes were orchestrated and largely operated by city employees, many of whom abused their positions of public trust for personal gain."

The indictments stem from an investigation into a ghost gun factory in Cliffie Thompson’s East Village apartment in 2002. Thompson was indicted in January 2023 as a result of the ongoing investigation which led to the discovery of two additional ghost gun allegations.

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One of the allegations led to an investigation into 56-year-old Craig Freeman and "co-conspirator one," who had not been named because of a pending arraignment.

Both suspects worked at the Barbara Kleiman Shelter in Brooklyn for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

Freeman and the co-conspirator are charged with fourth-degree conspiracy for purchasing ghost gun parts and making weapons between May 14, 2022, and Jan. 13, 2023.

The co-conspirator allegedly shared 3D printing files, templates and links with Freeman, so he could build weapons. Bragg said some of the templates were titled, "9mm bullet," "Glock Auto Switch," "magazine body," and "right side frame."

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A Glock switch is a part that can be printed with a 3D printer and inserted into a semiautomatic gun to turn it into an automatic pistol.

Co-conspirator one and 25-year-old Adrienne Manigault have been charged with fourth-degree conspiracy for buying ghost gun parts and manufacturing weapons from May 14, 2022, to Jan. 21, 2023.

The defendants allegedly purchased hundreds of dollars’ worth of 3D printing machines and materials, as well as ghost gun parts.

Bragg’s office said Manigault and the co-conspirator texted each other links on where to purchase the parts and materials, and often shared pictures and videos of the finished products.

Manigault was also charged with tampering with physical evidence after allegedly helping to get rid of evidence before investigators could execute a search warrant.

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Evidence uncovered in the investigation led to more discoveries of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fraud, allegedly led by "co-conspirator one" and 35-year-old Charde Baker, also an employee of DHS.

Bragg said Baker worked at DHS until becoming an employee with the New York Police Department. She was terminated from the NYPD in 2023, and rehired by DHS.

Baker and the co-conspirator, along with several other DHS employees, are accused of using their positions to steal personal information that identified unsuspecting individuals, including homeless people, to commit fraud, Bragg said.

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Along with co-conspirator one and Baker, Freeman, 36-year-old Latricia Kitchens, 38-year-old Garret Whetsell, both DHS employees, and 12 other defendants have been charged with fourth-degree defrauding the PUA program. Bragg said many of the defendants were also charged with first-degree grand larceny and other crimes.

From April 17, 2020, to Oct. 5, 2021, the defendants allegedly took the personal identifying information and submitted fraudulent PUA claims to the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) in their name, without their knowledge. Once the claims were approved, the DOL issued bank cards to the addresses provided on the applications, which were sometimes their own home addresses.

Later in the process, the defendants used an address on the Upper East Side mail route for "co-conspirator three," who was a United States Postal Service employee. The USPS employee allegedly would intercept the mail and provide the cards to the other defendants.

The DA alleges that the defendants filed 170 false applications worth $1.2 million in payouts.

The money was allegedly used to support lavish lifestyles that enabled trips to Mexico and Tanzania.

Some of the other defendants in the PUA fraud scheme were 30-year-old Shanice Robers, who worked as an NYPD school safety agent; 32-year-old Dawayne Bell, who worked with the New York City Housing Authority; 33-year-old David Barr, an MTA employee; and 43-year-old Sabur Khalifah, who worked for the USPS.

In the fourth indictment, Bragg’s office charged 34-year-old Sameera Robers Baker and other defendants with second-degree burglary after they allegedly broke into "co-conspirator one’s" apartment on Nov. 23, 2020.

Documents suggest that from Nov. 15-23, 2020, Baker allegedly sent a text saying "co-conspirator one" was holding thousands of dollars of the group’s proceeds from the PUA fraud in a safe in his apartment. The claims allegedly led to "co-conspirator one’s" apartment being burglarized under Baker’s direction.

"We see a clear link between those engaging in violent crimes and traditional white-collar fraud at the same time," Bragg said. "My Office will continue leveraging the expertise and tools available at our disposal to dismantle these types of interconnected schemes, no matter how complex they are."

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