Manhattan DA charges 18 in sprawling fraud, ghost gun ring, including government workers

Eighteen people, including federal, state and city government workers, were charged on Thursday in a sprawling indictment that accused them of manufacturing ghost guns, identity theft, fraud and robbery, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.

A 2022 investigation into a man who was later indicted for allegedly manufacturing ghost guns in his East Village apartment led prosecutors to a potentially larger scheme. Authorities said they eventually uncovered text messages about what they characterized as a $1.2 million fraud plot to use homeless peoples’ identities to submit 170 fraudulent applications to the state’s pandemic unemployment assistance program. Bragg alleged the group then enlisted a United States postal worker to intercept mail on their behalf.

“Stealing the identity of New Yorkers, many of them homeless, and defrauding a critical social safety net program during one of the most challenging times in our history – our city’s history – is downright shameful,” Bragg said at a press conference on Thursday.

Prosecutors alleged that five city Department of Homeless Services employees and the postal worker abused their government positions to commit the fraud. These employees were accused of using access to departmental databases to access the identities of people staying in homeless shelters.

Other government workers were also accused of participating in the ring, including an NYPD school safety officer, an MTA worker and an employee of the New York City Housing Authority, authorities said.

The indictments identified eight public employees:

  • Craig Freeman, 56, Department of Homeless Services
  • Charde Baker, 35, Department of Homeless Services
  • Latricia Kitchens, 36, Department of Homeless Services
  • Garret Whetsell, 38, Department of Homeless Services
  • Shanice Roberts, 30, NYPD
  • Dawayne Bell, 32 New York City Housing Authority
  • David Barr, 33, MTA
  • Sabur Khalifah, 43, United States Postal Service

Attorney information for the defendants was not immediately available.

NYCHA spokesperson Barbara Brancaccio told Gothamist that Bell will be immediately suspended without pay and is subject to an internal disciplinary process.

“NYCHA has zero tolerance for wrongful or illegal activity and will continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement and oversight partners to rid the Authority of malfeasance,” Brancaccio said in an email.

The remaining government entities employing the defendants did not immediately return requests seeking comment. The DA’s office did not immediately identify the remaining 10 defendants.

As the fraud progressed, Bragg said, some members of the operation began to suspect the others of withholding money and charged two people, Freeman and an unidentified defendant, with burglary.

Investigators first learned of the alleged fraud during a 2022 investigation of Cliffie Thompson, who was sentenced in January to five years in prison for assembling illegal firearms in his East Village public housing apartment. The Manhattan DA’s office said law enforcement found two 3D printers, a few partially completed 3D-printed guns, dozens of forged credit cards and a trove of gun-building tools in his home.

New York has banned both the possession and sale of homemade firearms, also known as ghost guns. They have no serial number, which means people who aren’t allowed to own guns can get them without going through a background check.

Lawmakers are also considering a measure that would make it illegal to 3D print ghost guns or share gun-making instructions.

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