Federal prosecutors say eight Columbia gang members have been sentenced to a combined 41 years in prison, the latest development after authorities broke up an illegal gun operation in the Midlands last year.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the convictions in a Wednesday press conference. Andre Moss, Anthony Brevard, Torrian Gleaton, Jonathan Bailey, Antonio Keller, Allan Boyd, Travis Hayes, and Dexter Savage all pleaded guilty. Officials accused the group of running an illegal gun ring that “terrorized” residents of the Greenview community– a neighborhood in the northern edge of the city.
“This is about our communities and taking weapons off the street,” said Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott, “These are gang members, no mistake about it.” Columbia police partnered with officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) last year to take down the group.
In March 2010, investigators convinced a reformed gang member to act as an informant. The informant agreed to buy guns from the gang, to help set up a case against them. That informant made several purchases before the dealers turned on him, robbing him of $1,600 during a final deal in June 2010. Authorities moved in quickly after that, arresting five of those involved in the ring within 24 hours. “These guys were too dangerous,” said Melvin King, ATF’s top official in South Carolina.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said cooperation between law enforcement agencies helped bring down the trafficking network. Benjamin, who has previously pushed for the police department to be more involved with the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, said it would not be the last time different agencies worked together. “If crime is your business, it’s time to choose a new line of work,” he said Wednesday, “We will not let your lawlessness stain this great city any longer.”
The operation was part of Project CeaseFire, a federal initiative that aims to get illegal guns off the streets.
ATF officials encouraged the public to report any illicit gun sales in their area by calling 800-ATF-GUNS. “I assure you, somebody will respond,” King said.