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Chicago Police Seize Guns, Drugs Sold Through Secret Facebook Groups; Criticize Facebook for Lack of Cooperation with Police

Thu December 21 2017 5:00 pm
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Chicago police said Facebook needs to do more to prevent people from using the social media network to sell illegal guns and drugs, after a 10-month undercover operation resulted in 50 arrests and the seizure of at least 18 firearms and more than $46,000 dollars of drugs.

In a press conference Thursday December 21, 2017, Chicago police complained that they received no cooperation from Facebook during a 10-month drug and gun-running investigation involving an invitation-only group on the social network that couldn’t be found through the search function.

Chicago police said that in the past 18 months they have expanded their social media investigations

Chicago police found secret Facebook groups with huge gun magazines and guns with scratched out serial numbers — discovered in secret Facebook groups that are permitted by the Facebook social media network.

Facebook groups are created by individual user(s) — self-designated administrators. Groups are similar to Facebook business and personal pages, except all members of a group can post (links, photo/video media, questions, events, editable documents, and comments) in the main timeline of the group. Facebook groups have three separate levels of privacy settings that are configured by an administrator of the groups

An “Open” group is defined as group, with members and their comments visible to the public (including non-members), but non-members cannot interact without joining.

A “Closed” group is defined as a group with members visible to the public, but their comments are not visible until the user has joined the group.

In Open Groups and Closed Groups members ask to join, but must be approved by an administrator or another member. The administrator configures whether new members can be approved by other members, or only by an administrator. In the Secret Group (defined below) non-members are not even aware of the group unless they are invited.

A “Secret” group means that members and comments aren’t visible until a member specifically invites a non-member to join the group, and the new potential member is approved. In some groups the members vet the new member, and the new potential member is not approved if a member disapproves. Chicago Police Department’s Chief of Organized Crime Division Anthony Riccio said the Facebook group selling guns and drugs would not be found by searching, and that someone had to vouch for anyone who wanted to join the Secret Group.

Chicago police were able to infiltrate some Facebook Secret Groups that were selling firearms and drugs on social media. The sellers had various backgrounds. Some were gang members, and some members had never been arrested before. Undercover police officers arranged the purchase of 18 firearms and about $46,000 worth of drugs, including from a teacher who was found with drug paraphernalia at Leland Elementary School. A total of fifty people have been taken into custody and 18 are wanted on warrants.

The police department’s narcotics division began the investigation when a source told them about the group, officials said. The buys were conducted by undercover officers who infiltrated the group, according to Anthony Riccio.

According to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, “One offender is wanted for attempted murder in Indiana. Another sold these illegal items while on electronic monitoring. Another had been recently arrested for carjacking and aggravated battery by firearm, and he did all this while he was on parole.”

“I absolutely think Facebook has a responsibility to monitor this and for this very reason. There’s other illegal activities — I want to point out this is phase one — there’s other illegal activities going on on Facebook. We’re looking at potentially human trafficking, things of that nature as well. There’s a lot of tentacles going out here.

“The things that are being trafficked on their site (Facebook) are killing people in Chicago. I think they have an obligation to take steps to make sure that stuff doesn’t happen. If any other organization was putting guns or allowing guns and drugs to be trafficked onto the streets of the city, I think we’d take action and citizens would expect us to take some action. I think they have the same obligation as any other business.”

Police said one of the suspects arrested was a CPS teacher at Leland Elementary School. The teacher was also found with drug paraphernalia. Leland Elementary School is located at 512 South Lavergne Avenue in Chicago — a STEM school (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) near I-290 and Cicero Avenue.


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Chicago police exposed what the department called a “virtual marketplace for guns and drugs” on Facebook; arresting several people, and seizing dozens of guns and large quantities of drugs in a recent series of raids. CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports.

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