It sounds like something from an episode of The Wire.
A former Stuyvesant High School teacher was taken down on Tuesday, September 14 with more than $30,000 in cash and 100,000 counterfeit cigarette tax stamps — and the bust happened at a warehouse right on Halperin Avenue.
Theophilus Burroughs was busted for selling guns, pain killers, and cigarettes with fake tax stamps to undercover NYPD detectives. The crimes were going on from October 2009 to May 2010, according to a September 15 press release from Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson’s office.
Burroughs taught music at Stuyvesant from 2002-2004. Since then he has taught at Cobble Hill High School for American Studies, but is on unpaid leave due to misconduct and verbal abuse. The DOE was already in the process of firing him before this arrest.
In total, Burroughs sold 12 guns to undercover agents over the course of eight months, and also arranged for the illegal shipment of cigarette cartons. His most serious charges are criminal sale of firearms, money laundering, tax fraud, and illegal sale of the narcotic pain killer Oxycodone, though there are a host of additional criminal charges. A number of the charges carry possible 25-year sentences.
Burroughs did not act alone — the DA’s press release cites 18 other individuals that were arrested, three of which have yet to be indicted. Key among these were Edward Henriquez, 35, of 2010 Westchester Avenue, who was charged with criminal sale and possession of firearms, criminal tax fraud, money laundering, evasion of cigarette and tobacco tax, and others, and brothers Balwant and Bhajan Singh, of New Jersey, in whose home police found $46,000 in cash, computers, and 300 cartons of cigarettes with fake tax stamps.
Assistant DA Graham Van Epps said in court at the arraignment on Wednesday, September 15 that Burroughs had the goal of sending weapons to terrorist groups in the Middle East, including Hamas and Hezbollah. The Bronx DA’s office found no definitive proof of a terrorist connection, however, and mentioned none in its official release.
The DA’s release called the warehouse at 2605 Halperin Avenue the “nerve center” of the entire operation. The warehouse was leased by the state Department of Taxation and Finance and had audio and visual surveillance during all transactions.
According to the release, “Cartons of cigarettes provided by cooperating tobacco manufacturers were sold at the warehouse where the transactions were conducted by appointment. The defendants allegedly paid cash ranging from $38 to $43 for each carton of cigarettes. The cigarettes either had no tax stamp or a tax stamp that was purported to be counterfeit. Investigators used the revenue generated by the sting to fund the operation of the warehouse.”
“It was such a good sting that I wasn’t aware of any of it,” commented a Halperin Avenue resident that didn’t wish to have his name printed. “I don’t recall ever seeing anything strange going on at that address in the past year,” he added, noting that the warehouse sits on Halperin between Blondell Avenue and Williamsbridge Road, and is right around the corner from Caridad restaurant.
Ken Kearns, district manager of Community Board 10, said that Westchester Square residents should feel comforted to learn that right under their noses, the NYPD was working to keep them safe.
“Wow, that’s something,” Kearns said when he heard the details of the arrest. “It’s really great that they were able to get this guy. It’s wonderful to note that our law enforcement officers are on top of things.”