Chicago police arrest dozens selling drugs, guns on Facebook

Image 1 of 2

SUN-TIMES MEDIA WIRE - Chicago police stings on dozens of ‘secret’ Facebook pages that act as virtual flea markets for guns and drugs have netted 50 arrests and prompted a sharp rebuke of the social media giant from police brass for refusing to help investigators, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

One of those caught up in the sting was Daniel Caponigri, a Chicago Public Schools gym teacher, police said.

“During the course of the investigation officers infiltrated numerous areas of Facebook known as ‘secret groups,’” Anthony Riccio chief of CPD’s Bureau of Organized Crime, said Thursday at a news conference at police headquarters.

The groups “can only be accessed after approval of a group administrator and are not otherwise visible on Facebook,” Riccio said, noting that a member of the group also needed to vouch for anyone wishing to join before being allowed in.

After receiving a tip from a criminal informant in February, detectives using false identities were able to successfully join several of the groups.

“Dozens of secret groups infiltrated by narcotics officers openly trafficked in the sale of firearms and narcotics,” Riccio said.

More than 17 types of illegal drugs with a combined street value of over $40,000 were purchased by undercover officers who arranged meets on Facebook.

“Even more troubling was the purchase of 18 illegal firearms,” Riccio said. “Many with serial numbers scratched out, some with magazines capable of holding more than 30 rounds of ammunition and most fully loaded and ready to use at the time of purchase.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the sting.

“These innovative raids are the latest example of the smart, strategic steps the men and women of the Chicago Police Department are taking to combat gun violence,” the mayor said in a written statement.

The Facebook groups operated as a sort of illegal version of Craigslist, with pictures and descriptions of items posted for sale.

One recent post offered a “Thanksgiving special” on drugs.

The guns were sold sometimes at triple their original price, he said.

A total of 50 people were arrested and charged. Police have warrants for 18 more they are still seeking.

When asked if Facebook helped investigators, Riccio said: “Quite frankly, no, they did not.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Riccio said Facebook has should monitor their site for these pages.

“They have an obligation to the people of this city, quite frankly. The things that are being trafficked on their site are killing people in Chicago,” Riccio said.

“There is certainly changes that they need to make. If any other organization was putting guns, allowing guns and drugs to be trafficked onto the streets of this city I think we would take some action,” he said.

Investigators were caught off guard by the online sales.

“We were kind of surprised. We didn’t know the secret groups exist it on Facebook.”

What did folks from Facebook say when detectives brought the secret pages to their attention?

“I’ll defer that for a while. We don’t get a lot of assistance,” Riccio said.