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Press Release

Two North Carolina Men and One Woman from South Carolina Charged With Illegally Trafficking 50+ Firearms into Philadelphia

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
This case is another example of the U.S. Attorney’s Office working to combat the phenomenon known as the ‘iron pipeline’

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline C. Romero announced that Najee Cunningham, 31, and James Cunningham, 27, both of Wilmington, North Carolina, and Rickia Adams, 24, of Marion, South Carolina, were charged by Indictment with multiple firearms offenses related to their scheme to illegally traffic guns across state lines from the southern United States into Philadelphia, a large northeastern city, a fact pattern which is commonly known as the “iron pipeline.” Specifically, all three defendants were charged with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Beginning in 2021, ATF Special Agents identified multiple firearms recovered in the City of Philadelphia, many connected to shootings, homicides, and illegal gun possession cases, that had been purchased by the same individuals in Ohio, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The short time frame between the purchase of the firearm and recovery in Philadelphia (known as the “time to crime” period) indicated that the weapons may have been trafficked into the city – a city that experienced the highest number of homicides in recorded history last year and is on track to outpace that number this year. In this case, the shortest “time to crime” alleged in the Indictment is just one day from the date of purchase in another state to the recovery of the firearm in Philadelphia, in connection with a crime. The Indictment also alleges that the defendants purchased more than 50 firearms over the course of a year and transported them to Philadelphia for sale on the black market. To date, at least 25 of those firearms have been recovered in the greater Philadelphia area.

“Stopping the gun violence ravaging our city and supporting the work of the Philadelphia Police Department is a top priority for our Office,” said U.S. Attorney Romero. “Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced strategies to fight violent crime, including cracking down on firearms trafficking and the ‘iron pipeline’ – the illegal flow of guns sold in mostly southern states, transported up the East Coast, and found at crime scenes in northeastern cities like ours. This Indictment, one of several announced just this year, shows that we are committed and determined to focus our resources on this problem.”

“Stemming the illegal flow of firearms into our city will always be at the forefront of our mission,” said Matthew Varisco, Special Agent in charge of ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division.  “ATF and our dedicated partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to using all tools available, to include the use of crime gun intelligence data, to make sure those engaged in trafficking firearms into the Commonwealth are held accountable.” 

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.   The Department of Justice reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally-based strategies to reduce violent crime.

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Ashley N. Martin.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.


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Philadelphia, PA 19106

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Updated August 25, 2022

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Firearms Offenses