Fr’Neil Hickson, 38, pleaded guilty in a Camden federal court on Tuesday.
A Cherry Hill man admitted his role in conspiring to sell at least 100 handguns without a federal firearms license last week.
Fr’Neil Hickson, also known as “Philly,” 38, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler in Camden federal court to count two of an indictment charging him with conspiracy to deal in firearms without a federal firearms license.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Hickson admitted that between December 2009 and April 2013 he sold or brokered the sale of at least 100 handguns obtained from sources outside of New Jersey. The investigation showed that Hickson obtained many of the weapons from Joshua Jackson, a.k.a “Apple,” a.k.a “Trent,” and that Jackson obtained most of the firearms through purchases at gun shows from unlicensed gun sellers without background checks. Some of the firearms were also purchased at Ohio gun stores by straw purchasers working for Jackson, who transported the handguns to New Jersey and resold them to Hickson and Terrance Laboo, a Camden drug dealer. Hickson admitted some of the weapons were equipped with extended magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition.
Hickson also sold handguns directly to Terrance Laboo. At the time of the gun sales, Laboo was engaged with others in drug trafficking, including the sale of PCP and cocaine at the corner of 4th and Chestnut streets in Camden. Hickson and Laboo sold, directed or brokered the sale of many of the firearms to other drug dealers and felons in Camden and surrounding areas.
The count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license to which Hickson pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 1.
Hickson has been in federal custody since his arrest in Atlanta on April 29, 2014. In a separate case in Atlanta, investigated jointly by ATF agents from the Atlanta office and the District of New Jersey, Hickson was arrested for illegal possession of 12 firearms. He pleaded guilty in Atlanta federal court to possession of firearms by a convicted felon and on Oct. 25, 2016, he was sentenced to four years in prison by U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones. Hickson completed his sentence in that case in August 2017, but remained in federal custody on the indictment that resulted in today’s guilty plea.
This case was part of a long-term investigation of illegal gun trafficking referred to as “Operation Buckeye,” as the bulk of the illegal guns recovered from felons in the Camden, Philadelphia and surrounding areas were originally purchased in Ohio.
On July 21, 2016, Laboo, who had previously pleaded guilty to dealing in firearms without a license, conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license, possession of firearms by a convicted felon, and distribution of a controlled substance, was sentenced by Judge Kugler to six years in prison. On Oct. 25, 2016, Jackson, of Willingboro, who had previously entered a guilty plea to dealing in firearms without a license, conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license, and possession of firearms by a convicted felon, was sentenced to six years in prison.
The ATF investigation showed that the conspiracy involved the illegal acquisition, interstate transfer and illegal sale of approximately 300 handguns to drug dealers and others.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito credited special agents of the ATF Newark Field Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John B. Devito; the N.J. State Police, under the direction of Col. Patrick J. Callahan; the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Mary Eva Colalillo; and the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Scott A. Coffina, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.