East Village ghost gunmaker pleads guilty

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By Dan Sears

A man pleaded guilty this week to charges that he manufactured guns in his East Village apartment.

Cliffie Thompson, 36, was arrested earlier this year for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. When police searched his apartment, prosecutors said, they found five guns, two 3-D printers and various other tools to build guns, including drills, wrenches and springs. He also had dozens of forged credit cards, according to the DA’s office.

Thompson is expected to spend five years in prison and three years under supervision after his release. He will be formally sentenced early next year.

Thompson’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Homemade firearms, also known as ghost guns, are illegal to possess or sell in New York. Unlike weapons manufactured at federally licensed facilities, ghost guns have no serial number, making them nearly impossible to track. People who are legally barred from obtaining a firearm can also skirt background checks by purchasing them from ghost gunmakers or building them themselves.

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While New Yorkers are prohibited from having or selling ghost guns, it’s technically still legal to manufacture them in New York state — a loophole that Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg is asking lawmakers to close.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and state Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal proposed a measure days before the end of the state’s legislative session this past June, which would make it illegal to make a firearm with a 3-D printer or share instructions that explain how to do so. Lawmakers could pick it up again when the new session begins in January.

“The easy assembly of ghost guns means bad actors are able to evade New York’s strict gun laws in their own homes,” Bragg said in a statement on Thursday. “As we work with our law enforcement partners to remain vigilant on enforcement, we renew our call to the New York Legislature to make the manufacturing of 3-D-printed guns and gun parts illegal.”

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Attorney General Letitia James and Mayor Eric Adams have sued several companies that make and sell ghost gun kits, which people can use to assemble their own firearms. A handful of companies have signed settlements agreeing to stop selling their products to New York City residents.

The Manhattan DA’s office also launched a team in 2020 that works with the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute ghost gun cases. The unit has seized 90 firearms and more than 100 ghost gun parts since then, according to prosecutors.

While ghost guns still account for a tiny fraction of illegal firearms seized in New York City, NYPD data shows the number has increased substantially in recent years, from 17 in 2018 to 463 last year.

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