Investigation Into Secret Drug-Selling Facebook Group Nets Another Arrest

By Keri Blakinger 01/05/18

Chicago police have already arrested 50 people for their alleged role in the group's drug and weapons sales.

man using laptop computer in the dark

A wanted Chicago man allegedly involved in a Facebook group dedicated to selling guns and drugs turned himself in to police Tuesday, according to local reports. 

Sergio Barrera was hit with a slew of charges ranging from armed violence to gunrunning to delivery of a controlled substance, the Chicago Sun Times reported. 

The investigation that landed the 23-year-old behind bars began back in February, after a tip from an informant netted 50 arrests in December, including that of a public school gym teacher. Undercover cops bought more than 17 types of drugs worth more than $40,000. 

“Even more troubling was the purchase of 18 illegal firearms,” said Anthony Riccio, chief of the Chicago PD Bureau of Organized Crime. “Many with serial numbers scratched out, some with magazines capable of holding more than 30 rounds of ammunition, and most fully loaded and ready to use at the time of purchase.”

Among the initial arrests was Daniel Caponigri, a Leland Elementary teacher charged with allegedly using the Facebook group to set up drug sales with undercovers. In December, he was arrested at the school, where police say they found a scale, packaging materials and 100 pills in his backpack. 

“We are deeply concerned by these allegations, and we have removed the teacher from his position,” the school district said in a statement at the time. 

“We were kind of surprised,” Riccio said. “We didn’t know the secret groups existed on Facebook.”

From the outset, Chicago police have thrown blame on the social media giant for allegedly failing to cooperate in the early stages of the investigation. 

“Facebook has a responsibility to the people that they serve to ensure that these types of things don’t go on,” said Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. “And quite frankly, they haven’t been very friendly to law enforcement to prevent these things, so maybe with you all’s help, they will become that.”

Facebook later pushed back against that accusation, saying they didn’t find out about the investigation till after a December news conference, and that they don’t allow drug or gun sales. 

“We routinely work with law enforcement and outline how officials may submit a request on our site,” a spokeswoman told the Chicago news outlet.

Barrera, the target of the latest arrest, was denied bail during a hearing Wednesday where Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke pointed to the “likelihood of conviction” as a reason to deny his release. Barrera’s attorney unsuccessfully argued for electronic monitoring and said his client was not a flight risk. 

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.