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York County, state and federal officials said they've arrested nine men and seized 11 illegal firearms during the first four months of Operation Gun Grabber.

The collaborative operation targets gun and drug traffickers, and remains ongoing, according to Dave Sunday, York County chief deputy prosecutor.

"York County is ground zero on this war on violent crime," U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler said at a news conference Friday morning at the Springettsbury Township police station.

Brandler said law enforcement has a message for those engaged in violent crimes: "You can't hide."

The partnership will help ensure local gun and drug traffickers will face federal prison sentences, Brandler said, which can be harsher than county-court sentences.

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Video short from a press conference about Operation Gun Grabber, a joint effort between feds, state police and the York County Drug Task Force.

"People are going to face decades in prison," he warned, then cited the partnership between York City Police, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that took down the city's Southside gang.

A massive two-year probe into Southside gang activity led to federal indictments against 21 purported gang members who either pleaded guilty or were found guilty and who are serving lengthy prison sentences. Officials have said Southside members and associates used fear, intimidation, retaliation, violence and threats to protect the gang's territory and its criminal enterprise — drug trafficking, primarily.

Brandler said there's no timetable to end Operation Gun Grabber and that it will continue "as long as it's needed."

Guns, drugs linked: Flanked by police chiefs and officials from York County departments, state police and other agencies, Sunday explained how the sales of illegal guns and drugs are intertwined.

Desperate for drugs, addicts look to sell whatever they can, whether it's their own property or items they steal from others, he said.

"And one of those main commodities happens to be firearms," he said. "Firearms are things that drug dealers want to get their hands on — something they can use in furtherance of their trade. It's something that they can use to intimidate and scare others."

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Video clips from a press conference about Operation Gun Grabber, a joint effort between feds, state police and the York County Drug Task Force.

The firearms "come from all over the place," Sunday said, but ultimately make their way to where they can be used.

"And our goal was to stop that before these guns can even get into the hands of a drug dealer, who could use them to kill someone," he said.

Gang members? Asked whether any of the nine men arrested is a member of a York City street gang, Sunday said he could not go into specific detail about the investigation.

"I can tell you there is a high likelihood that certain individuals who have been indicted ... are affiliated in some form or fashion with some organized groups in the city of York," Sunday said at the news conference. "Our community is safer today because of the collaborative efforts of everyone standing here today."

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From a press conference about Operation Gun Grabber, a joint effort between feds, state police and the York County Drug Task Force.

One of the 11 firearms seized was a fully automatic Uzi submachine gun, which Brandler called one of the most dangerous weapons there is, as well as one that's "just a prohibited weapon."

Other weapons seized, including assault rifles, had laser sighting or high-capacity magazines, and one had a silencer, he said, adding these weapons aren't for hunting or sporting purposes. Their sole purpose is to kill people, Brandler said.

Operation Gun Grabber is a joint effort between the York County Drug Task Force, the ATF, state police and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Police agencies participating in the operation through their roles in the drug task force include Springettsbury Township Police, Northern York County Regional Police, West Manchester Township Police, the York County Sheriff's Office and the York County Office of Probation/Parole.

Indicted and charged: The following people have been arrested, indicted, charged and federally detained, according to Brandler's office:

  • Edward Harris, 58, of Uniontown, Fayette County, charged with possessing a fully automatic Uzi submachine gun with a partially obliterated serial number; also charged with possessing various types of ammunition and a high-capacity magazine
  • Ernest Crosby, 25, of Manchester, charged with possessing a loaded .357 Magnum revolver
  • Jeremiah Ashford, 25, of York, charged with possessing a .22-caliber Ruger revolver and ammunition
  • Lykeem Bethune, 20, of York, charged with the sale and possession of a stolen Intratec 9 mm pistol loaded with 22 bullets, as well as a stolen, and loaded, .40-caliber Springfield Armory pistol
  • Derek Jones, 23, of York, also charged with possessing the stolen Intratec 9 mm pistol
  • Edward Lee McDowell III, 20, of York, charged with possessing a .22-caliber Ruger pistol with a silencer and a 9 mm rifle and ammunition, and also charged with possessing the stolen Springfield Armory .40-caliber pistol. Police said he also faces felony heroin trafficking charges.
  • Quran Smallwood, 22, of York, charged with possessing a loaded 9 mm Glock and also charged with trafficking heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana
  • Fred Crowder III, 32, of York, charged with possessing a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun and two shotgun shells
  • Kenge Lewis III, 23, of York, charged with possessing a .22-caliber revolver and ammunition.

Officials said many of those charged as part of Operation Gun Grabber are already convicted felons who are prohibited by law from owning, or even holding, firearms.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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