Chicago police arrest 53 for allegedly selling guns, drugs using Facebook as digital flea market

Chicago police criticized Facebook for not allowing undercover cops to use fake profiles to pursue gun and drug dealers on the platform.

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Interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck looks on as First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio speaks about Operation FaceBOOKED, which resulted in 53 arrests for allegedly selling illegal guns and drugs on Facebook, Dec. 3, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck and First Deputy Supt. Anthony Riccio talk about Operation FaceBOOKED.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago police announced Tuesday they’d busted dozens of gun and drug dealers who operated on Facebook and criticized the social media behemoth for not doing enough to clamp down on such activity.

The sale of guns, as well as drugs, were being conducted on hidden Facebook groups only accessible by invitation, First Deputy Police Supt. Anthony Riccio said during a news conference at police headquarters.

Officers from the department’s Bureau of Organized Crime created fake accounts and were able to join seven such groups and make dozens of undercover buys that were audio and video recorded, Riccio said.

The investigation began two years ago and has resulted in 53 people being charged, with the latest arrests coming Monday night. Four people were taken into custody and police seized four handguns, two shotguns, one high-powered rifle and 23 different narcotics with a street value of $105,000.

Jasper Pintor, 22, of Marquette Park, who relied on a drug addict with a valid FOID card to buy the guns he resold on Facebook, was among the latest to be arrested and charged, Riccio said.

“The truth is Facebook is harboring criminals,” Riccio said, adding Facebook should do more to solve the problem.

In an emailed statement, Facebook spokeswoman Sarah Pollack said Facebook works with police and proactively fights illegal gun and drug sales.

“Illicit drug and firearms sales have no place on our platform,” she said. Groups and individuals engaged in such activity are flagged and removed.

The company and law enforcement continue to be at odds over a Facebook policy that removes fake accounts, including ones set up undercover officers.

Riccio said fake accounts are needed by his undercover officers to infiltrate such groups.

Interim Chicago Police Supt. Charlie Beck said Facebook needs to work with police and do more.

“They believe very strongly in the rights of their subscribers, and they believe the rights of their subscribers trump the rights of the general public, and we don’t agree with that,” Beck said.

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