Chicago Police Say Facebook Hampered Gun and Drug-Running Investigation

Chicago Police officials have announced they carried out a months-long sting on drug and illegal gun dealers who used private Facebook groups to sell contraband. But Facebook, they say, was not cooperative with their efforts.

by Peter Nickeas, Chicago Tribune / December 22, 2017
Chicago Police Department Chief Anthony Riccio, of the Bureau of Organized Crime, describes an investigation into sales of drugs and guns on secret Facebook groups, in a press conference at CPD headquarters Thursday, Dec. 21 2017. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — Chicago police complained Thursday that they received no cooperation from Facebook during a drug and gun-running investigation involving an invitation-only group on the social network that couldn't be found through the search function.

A department source said covert accounts set up by investigators were shut down once Facebook learned they involved law enforcement. About 50 people have been arrested so far and 18 guns have been seized, officials said at a news conference during which they repeatedly blasted Facebook.

"Facebook has a responsibility to the people that they serve to ensure that these types of things don't go on," police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. "And quite frankly they haven't been very friendly to law enforcement to prevent these things."

There was no immediate comment from Facebook.

Police 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.

The 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, chief of the department's organized crime division.

Fifty people have been taken into custody and 18 are wanted on warrants.

“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,” Johnson said. “Every Chicagoan deserves their streets to be free of gun violence.”

Riccio said there are “dozens and dozens of these secret groups, a lot of them used for illegal things, including trafficking the guns and firearms. It's dozens of them out there.”

He said many of the guns had defaced serial numbers, making them difficult to trace. “These are guns that are winding up in the South Side, West Side of the city being used in gang shootings,” Riccio said.

He 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 them.

“I absolutely think Facebook has a responsibility to monitor this and for this very reason,” Riccio said. “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 are killing people in Chicago,” he added. “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,” Riccio said.

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