Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

17 People Arrested; 23 Guns Seized

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

17 People Arrested; 23 Guns Seized

Article excerpt

Byline: DEBORAH CEARNAL

What began as the investigation of a robbery in the driveway of a Clay County home led to the arrests of 17 people and the recovery of 23 stolen firearms.

For the past eight months, Clay County detectives and agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives worked hand-in-hand to link a number of loosely organized groups to a variety of crimes that criss-crossed Clay and Duval county lines. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office assisted.

"Because of the excellent cooperation of these agencies, we unraveled this group of criminals. I call them 'thugs,' " said Clay County Sheriff Rick Beseler during a news conference Thursday.

In late July, a couple was robbed at gunpoint in their driveway. Thinking the guns used might have been stolen, the robbery unit checked with the burglary unit, which was working on an unsolved gun-shop break-in.

"Things grew from there," said Clay County Detective Mike Calhoun after the press conference.

Officials worked undercover to learn about the web of interactions among a variety of neighborhood gang "wannabes." The investigation was called Operation Full Court Press because many of the gun sale transactions took place on a basketball court in the OakLeaf Plantation subdivision.

"There was a common thread [among the groups], though they may not have known each other," Beseler said.

Calhoun, who Beseler called "the glue that held this investigation together," said the youths had done research on surveillance systems on the Internet. Some even went into gun shops and noted their security systems. In several cases, their entry was through the roof.

A total of 11 businesses -- one in Clay County and 10 in Duval County -- were burglarized. Of the 89 firearms stolen, 23 have been recovered. The stolen guns range in value from $250 to $1,200.

The missing weapons "may surface in subsequent crimes," Beseler said. "This investigation is not concluded as long as these guns are on the street."

The recovered guns ranged from handguns to one Uzi and had been used "to commit other violent crimes," he said. …

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