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NORRISTOWN — Three Philadelphia residents are accused of engaging in a gun trafficking network that involved the illegal purchase or transfer of 40 firearms and operated in Montgomery, Bucks, Lehigh, Lackawanna and Philadelphia counties.
Antwion D. Lofton, 25, of the 1800 block of South 65th Street, Kenneth Darien Lyles III, 30, who listed addresses in the 5200 of North Warnock Street and the 1800 block of Juniata Street, and Aja Marie Morris, 27, of the 5200 block of Chestnut Street, each faces charges of corrupt organizations, conspiracy, making materially false statements, sales to ineligible transferee and dealing in proceeds of unlawful activities in connection with alleged incidents that occurred between 2020 and 2023.
Lofton turned himself in to county detectives and was arraigned on the charges before District Court Judge Albert J. Augustine, who set bail at $99,000 cash. A bail review hearing was held June 16 and at that time Judge Thomas P. Rogers reduced bail to $75,000 cash. Lofton was unable to post bail and was remanded to the county jail to await a preliminary hearing on the charges before District Court Judge Harry J. Nesbitt III.
Morris also surrendered to county detectives and was arraigned before District Court Judge Patrick O. Krouse, who set bail at $100,000 unsecured and she remains free while awaiting her preliminary hearing before Nesbitt.
An arrest warrant was issued for Lyles for whom authorities are still searching. Authorities said Lyles, who also listed an address in Harrisburg, is considered armed and dangerous and anyone who sees him should call 911.
Anyone with information about Lyles’ whereabouts can call the Montgomery County Detective Bureau Tip Line at 610-278-DOIT (3648). Text tips can be submitted using MontcoCrimeTips on the STOPit! app. The STOPit! app can be downloaded for free from the App Store for iPhones or Google Play for Androids, then use code MONTCOPA to get the Montgomery County version of the app.
District Attorney Kevin R. Steele announced the charges against the trio on Wednesday.
Detectives alleged members of the organization relied on so-called “straw purchase” schemes to carry out their activities.
A straw purchase occurs when a person with a clean background purchases firearms on behalf of another person to conceal the true ownership of the firearm. Those who are unable to legally purchase firearms include convicted felons, domestic violence offenders, juveniles and mentally ill individuals.
“The purpose of this corrupt organization was to illegally obtain and distribute numerous firearms to others,” county Detective Michael Crescitelli alleged in a 52-page arrest affidavit. “The gun trafficking organization conspired to purchase firearms illegally, making materially false statements on the application/record of sale and illegally transferred the firearms to others.”
Detectives said Lyles, Morris and Lofton did not possess federal firearms licenses which made all of their alleged handgun transfers illegal.
The gun purchases were made at firearms dealers in Montgomery, Bucks, Lehigh, Philadelphia and Lackawanna counties. The guns purchased included various Smith & Wesson, Springfield, Ruger, Beretta, Taurus and Glock model 9mm firearms, according to court documents.
Court documents indicate detectives reviewed the purchasing behavior of the trio.
“At one juncture in November 2020, they purchased ten firearms in an eighteen-day stretch. This illegal purchasing spree conducted by Lyles, Morris and Lofton yielded 20 firearms in a sixteen-month time span,” Crescitelli alleged.
Of the 40 illegally purchased firearms identified during the investigation, only 11 have been recovered. Five of the firearms were recovered from persons who were not permitted to possess a firearm due to their criminal histories, according to an affidavit of probable cause. None of the recovered firearms was in the possession of Lyles, Morris or Lofton and none had been reported stolen at the time they were recovered, according to detectives.
Ten of the firearms were recovered in Philadelphia and one firearm was recovered by Delaware State Police during a trespassing incident, according to officials. The most recent recovery was on April 12, 2023, during a traffic stop conducted by Philadelphia police where the firearm was found in the possession of a person wanted on drug trafficking charges, officials said.
“Gun trafficking and straw purchasing of firearms puts guns in the hands of criminals, arming people who are not legally allowed to possess a firearm,” Steele said on Wednesday. “This is dangerous and a threat to public safety. We are committed to continue going after and tracking down anyone buying and selling firearms illegally in Montgomery County.”
The investigation began in November 2020 when Philadelphia police arrested a male during a narcotics investigation and recovered a 9mm Springfield semiautomatic handgun from him that records revealed was purchased 69 days earlier by Lyles on Sept. 17, 2020, at a Horsham gun shop. The gun had not been reported stolen by Lyles.
Detectives said the recovery of firearms in relation to their purchase date is important.
“A firearm recovered by law enforcement a short time after purchase is an indicator of a straw purchase,” Crescitelli alleged.
Detectives examined Lyles’ gun purchases and discovered that he purchased 20 firearms in a short period of time between Aug. 10, 2020, and Jan. 8, 2021, which is indicative of straw purchasing and gun trafficking, according to court documents. At one point, Lyles allegedly purchased five firearms during a three-day period.
The investigation also determined that Lofton purchased a 9mm handgun on Aug. 3, 2020, and the firearm was recovered by Philadelphia police just 63 days later on Oct. 5, 2020, authorities alleged.
During the investigation, detectives learned that Morris was the girlfriend of Lyles and authorities investigated her gun purchases. Detectives found that Morris had purchased nine firearms between Sept. 17, 2020, and Dec. 17, 2020, according to court documents.
Detectives analyzed the contents of Morris’ cellphone and as a result identified Lofton as the third alleged conspirator.
A review of text messages between Lyles and Lofton also confirmed Lofton’s participation in the gun trafficking activities, detectives alleged. Subsequently, detectives identified 11 firearms purchases by Lofton between Sept. 27, 2019, and Aug. 28, 2020, according to court papers.
The investigation of the gun trafficking organization involved multiple agencies including the Montgomery County Detective Bureau’s Violent Crimes Unit, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General’s Gun Violence Task Force and the Philadelphia Police Department.