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The path of a gun

Tracing the clandestine journey
that turned a legally purchased
Smith & Wesson into a crime gun.

This Smith & Wesson M&P 9 handgun was legally purchased by a Texas sheriff's deputy in February 2020. It was smuggled into Canada just over a month later.RCMP

A Smith & Wesson 9-mm semi-automatic pistol, serial number HNJ6785, flashes briefly at the end of an eight-second cellphone video featuring several guns in open boxes spread across the white covering of a bed.

The video appears to have been filmed by a person holding a cellphone in one hand and using the other to toy with some of the guns. Font on the screen reads: Houston, 2:49 p.m., June 4, 2020.

The RCMP extracted the video from the cellphone of Tony N’Zoigba after his arrest for smuggling nine pistols into Canada from the U.S. on June 10, 2020.


The one-time star athlete from Ottawa, who ran track and played football on a New Mexico military college scholarship, refused to identify the source of the guns during police questioning.

“I shall not be answering this,” said N’Zoigba, leaning back in the chair across from RCMP Cpl. Angelique Dignard.

WATCH | CBC goes undercover for a gun sales pitch in a Texas parking lot:

The majority of handguns seized by Ontario police can be traced back to the United States. CBC News goes undercover to show how easily these guns — legal in the U.S. — can end up in Canada as illegal weapons destined for street crime.

N’Zoigba was arrested after crossing the St. Lawrence River in a 16-foot white motor boat that docked briefly along the seawall by the Blue Anchor restaurant in Cornwall, Ont.

An undercover Canada Border Services Agency officer watched N’Zoigba hop out of the boat carrying a duffel bag. An SUV with three men from Ottawa arrived moments later to pick him up.

The duffel bag held nine guns individually wrapped in plastic bags with accompanying magazines. The Smith & Wesson pistol, serial number HNJ6785, came with two 17 round mags — the gun restricted in Canada, the magazine prohibited.

A duffel bag with a camo pattern sits open on a cement floor
Several ziploc bags are seen inside a duffel bag.

RCMP in Cornwall, Ont., found this duffel bag full of handguns in the back of an SUV from Ottawa. Police suspect the guns seized from Tony N’Zoigba after he crossed into Canada by taking a boat across the St. Lawrence River were intended to be sold individually. (RCMP)

The gun began its journey across the border 116 days earlier in a Houston pawn shop where it was bought by a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department in Brazoria County. The area that spreads south of Houston to the Gulf of Mexico Coast carries the slogan, “Where Texas began.”

Tracing the weapon’s path, from the deputy’s hand into the duffel bag carried across the St. Lawrence, reveals parts of the clandestine journey that turned the legally purchased Smith & Wesson into a crime gun. The 9-mm pistol passed through the private gun sale market, which is largely unregulated in several U.S. states, including Texas and Georgia.

The U.S. is the largest source of illegal handguns in Canada, according to the Department of Justice Canada.

In Ontario alone, pistols from the United States made up 90 per cent of all crime-related handguns traced by police in 2022, with Texas as a leading source state, according to the Ontario Provincial Police.

Two police officers gather evidence at the scene of a shooting.
Just before midnight on July 4, 2021, police in Ottawa were called to a shooting on a basketball court in the city’s Lowertown neighbourhood. The next morning, they were labelling evidence in the shooting that killed one person and injured another. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

A shooting in the capital

In the waning minutes of July 4, 2021, gunshots exploded under overcast skies seven blocks east of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Jooris Ndongozi’s phone rang at 6 a.m. on July 5. The caller said his son, Tyson, 20, was in the hospital. Then he heard a knock on his door. Ottawa police detectives wanted to search his son’s room, he said.

“I told them, ‘We are about to go to the hospital to see him,’ ” said Ndongozi.

He said a detective then told him Tyson was dead.

“The rest, I don’t remember. I was shocked, devastated.”

A young, Black man wearing a red and blue striped polo shirt smiles in a candid photo.
Tyson Ndongozi, 20, played football and enjoyed photography. He was playing basketball with a friend the night he was shot to death. (Facebook)

Blood still stained the pavement when Ndongozi visited the spot where his son had been playing basketball with a friend.

Ndongozi said a man came hunting for Tyson’s friend that night, and his son tried to intervene to protect his friend.

“One guy … he shot him,” he said.

Since 2017, guns have killed nearly 40 people in Ottawa. Police seized more than 352 crime-related handguns, the majority smuggled from the U.S., over that same time span.

CBC News has not come across information directly linking N’Zoigba to any killings or shootings. The only connection between N’Zoigba and Ottawa’s gun-crime scene is through his older and younger brothers.

His older brother, Joel Nsabua, allegedly controlled the semi-automatic pistol equipped with a silencer and used in the January 2020 assassination of a sleeping man in an Ottawa Airbnb that left three others injured, according to court records.

N’Zoigba’s younger brother, Kevin Nsabua, pleaded guilty and served six months in jail for possessing a Glock 9-mm pistol with 19 rounds in a magazine, a bullet in the chamber and the serial number scraped off. According to court records, he tossed the gun when he was chased by police during a downtown Ottawa Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020.

Nine handguns are displayed on the ground on RCMP evidence cards.
RCMP believe the guns found in the duffel bag in the Ottawa SUV were destined for separate sales based on their individual packaging. (RCMP)

The final intended destination of N’Zoigba’s nine guns remains unclear.

RCMP investigators believe they were destined for separate sales based on their individual packaging.

The three Ottawa men who picked up N’Zoigba and his duffel bag did not have criminal records. They were childhood friends — two of their mothers knew each other, and the driver borrowed the Honda CRV from his girlfriend, according to court records.

The RCMP charged all four men after Cpl. Angelique Dignard pulled the Honda over before it hit the highway.

Only N’Zoigba was ever convicted of gun smuggling.

Journey from the pawn shop

CBC News obtained U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) traces for three of the guns found in N’Zoigba’s duffle bag, including the Smith & Wesson pistol initially bought legally and sold by James Minshew, a deputy with the Brazoria County Sheriff’s Office.

Minshew’s duties for the department now include providing security for the Brazoria County courthouse.

“I have only sold firearms to licensed dealers or people that I know are peace officers or cops in Texas,” said Minshew, in a brief conversation with CBC News on the doorstep of his Angleton, Texas, home.

“I sold it to a [federal firearms licence holder] a few months after I purchased it … whatever they did with it after that, I have no idea.”

A sales receipt.
A faded receipt from AJC Sports shows the figure 432.98 in the 'total' box. (Submitted by David Donahue)

Minshew’s Houston lawyer, Paul Aman, later followed up with an email to CBC News with more details.

Aman confirmed Minshew initially purchased the weapon at a pawn shop.

He said Minshew later used it as a trade-in to buy a better gun from federally licensed gun shop AJC Sports Inc., during a Houston-area gun show on March 8, 2020.

The lawyer’s assistant, David Donahue, provided CBC News with a faded AJC Sports receipt as proof.

The only legible item on the document was the figure 432.98 next to a box that said “total.”

In an email to CBC News, Donahue said the gun shop failed to register the purchase and eventual sale of Minshew’s gun as required under federal rules for licensed dealers.

“AJC Sports Inc., error is what caused the bad trace on the illegally smuggled firearm into Canada,” said the email.

Alan Jones, who owns and runs AJC Sports in Clute, Texas, with his wife, flatly denied the allegation.

Jones said he could find no record of the 9-mm Smith & Wesson pistol, serial number HNJ6785, in his computerized database, which dates back to 2008.

He said his database showed Minshew purchased two guns from his shop — one in December 2010 and a second on March 8, 2020 — at a gun show in Pasadena, Texas, which sits 20 kilometres southeast of Houston.

A copy of the March receipt on file with AJC Sports indicated Minshew paid the sticker price for a late model Smith & Wesson pistol for $432.98, tax included, he said.

“Just go back to his lawyer and tell him … ‘Your client never traded anything in to them,’ ” said Jones.

Donahue said Minshew maintains that he acted appropriately and expected the gun shop to fill out the proper paperwork.

Lure of the black market

The full path Minshew’s second-hand Smith & Wesson followed to Canada remains partly shrouded. But the record shows that it passed through the hands of an illegal Texas gun dealer two months before it was found in the duffel bag with eight other weapons in the trunk of the Ottawa SUV.

A separate investigation by the ATF determined Craig Cornelison, of Huffman, Texas, possessed all nine guns by April 19, 2020.

Cornelison was just a “regular guy” who believed in gun rights, but got caught up in the money that could be made selling guns on the black market, according to his friend, Julio Ayarzagoitia, owner of the Mad Cactus, a shop in Dayton, Texas, that specializes in gun plating and high-end engravings.

A man holds a gun with gold plating so another man can examine it.
Craig Cornelison's friend, Julio Ayarzagoitia, right, says the money in the black market gun trade was what attracted Cornelison to selling guns illegally. (CBC News)

“That’s why the black market exists — it’s the money,” said Ayarzagoitia. “I think Craig knew … it wasn’t the right thing to be doing.”

He said ATF agents visited the Mad Cactus during their investigation of Cornelison.

Agents also followed Cornelison throughout February 2020 to gun shows in Pasadena and Conroe, Texas. They watched as he set up a booth with a sign reading, “private sale” and then made deals throughout the events.

At one show in Pasadena, Cornelison sold five handguns to a buyer who paid in cash with hundred-dollar bills. In Conroe, agents watched Cornelison take “large sums of cash” from another buyer who loaded the newly purchased weapons into a tub, placed it on a dolly and rolled it out to his vehicle.

In Texas, private sales require no paperwork, but it’s illegal to sell a gun to someone who is intoxicated, under 18 or known to be planning a crime.

A man with grey hair wearing a blue polo shirt poses for a candid photo in a restaurant booth.
Craig Cornelison is currently serving 18 months in U.S. federal prison for dealing in firearms without a licence. (

U.S. authorities eventually determined Cornelison crossed the line because his activities evolved into a long-running illegal business based on buying and selling hundreds of guns and generating tens of thousands of dollars in profit. He sold over 200 guns and made over $147,000 in a one year time-span, authorities said.

He sold guns to buyers who hid the weapons among car parts in containers shipped to Iraq, according to evidence presented by federal prosecutor Heather Winter at an April 4, 2022, hearing.

Cornelison also sold the nine guns found by the RCMP in N’Zoigba’s duffle bag, Winter said.

“He displays that private sale sign on his exhibitor table to conceal his status as someone that has been engaged in the business of dealing in firearms without a licence,” she said.

Cornelison pleaded guilty to selling guns as a business without a licence during the April hearing.

“It makes me sick to my stomach that some of these guns fell in the wrong hands,” said Cornelison, according to a transcript of his sentencing hearing on Aug. 4, 2022.

“I am very ashamed.”

He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.

Gun smuggling on day parole

Tony N’Zoigba allegedly worked a gun-smuggling deal last summer while on day parole at a halfway house under the supervision of Correctional Service Canada.

N’Zoigba was serving part of his 18 month sentence for the 2021 gun-smuggling conviction on the nine guns from Texas.

Still, he allegedly kept trying to smuggle more guns into the country. This time, he was eying 15 guns from Georgia.

Some of his smuggling associates knew him by the nickname “Ottawa,” according to information gathered by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

There were other aliases. On the Snapchat messaging platform, he went by The Kremlin, with username t6nyfromthe6ix. On Wickr, an encrypted messaging app, he was known as “thekremlin1919.”

He used both apps for the business, setting up purchases, transmitting details on gun shows, providing instructions on obtaining fake IDs and listing directions for rental storage units, according to HSI evidence.

The Parole Board revoked Tony N’Zoigba’s day parole last fall. He successfully appealed the decision and will get a new hearing on March 28. (Facebook)

The Parole Board of Canada imposed strict restrictions on N’Zoigba’s cellphone use when it granted him day parole in May 2022 over the objections of the Ottawa Police Service.

Weeks later, in July, N’Zoigba allegedly used a cellphone to direct an associate to retrieve 15 guns from a town outside Atlanta. The move put N’Zoigba on the radar of U.S. law enforcement.

ATF agents watched and then arrested N’Zoigba’s associate on July 16 after he pulled into a parking lot in Cumming, Ga., about 63 kilometres north of Atlanta, to retrieve a grey backpack with the guns.

The ATF surveillance was part of an investigation launched months earlier by HSI that targeted an organization smuggling guns into Canada from several locations in the U.S.

HSI agents determined Atlanta was one of the source regions and later identified N’Zoigba as one of the gears in the organization.


After the arrest, HSI planned a sting operation to either snare N’Zoigba or another associate, according to details of the investigation obtained by CBC News.

In late July, agents planted 15 dummy weapons in locker 19 of a storage depot in Massena, N.Y., about 20 kilometres across the Canada-U.S. border from Cornwall, Ont.

On July 24, at about 7:40 p.m., N’Zoigba allegedly messaged an associate living in Gatineau, Que., over Snapchat. He wanted a favour from the man, who was in his 20s with a clean record and a blossoming basketball career. N’Zoigba offered him $200 to cross the border, head to Massena Self Storage, rent a unit and move a bag from locker 19 to the new unit.

When N’Zoigba’s associate crossed the border through the Massena customs post, agents followed him to the storage outlet and watched as he opened locker 19 and pulled out the duffel bag. The trap sprung, they arrested him.

In February, U.S. prosecutors dropped the case against the associate due to lack of evidence.

The Parole Board revoked N’Zoigba’s day parole last fall. He successfully appealed the decision and will get a new hearing on March 28.

‘My champion'

So far this year, N’Zoigba’s hometown of Ottawa recorded 13 shootings and two gun deaths, including 18-year-old Omar Al-Khalidi, who was killed by a 17-year-old.

Sometimes, police never catch the killer, like in Tyson Ndongozi’s murder.

The alleged killer, long gone, married and is now living somewhere in Somalia, says Tyson’s father, Jooris Ndongozi.

“God forgive him because he don’t know what he do,” said Ndongozi.

A man with glasses wearing a leather jacket over a red polo shirt stands in a snowy parking lot.
Jooris Ndongozi, Tyson's father, now runs Tyson's Dream, an organization that aims to counter gun violence. (CBC News)

Ndongozi called Tyson his “mini me.”

He said his son was destined for big things on the football field, where he was a standout player, a mix of size and athleticism, and in life as a budding photographer.

Tyson’s death triggered an outpouring of support in the community and hundreds attended his outdoor memorial.

“When you kill Tyson, you stop many things,” said Ndongozi, who now runs Tyson’s Dream, an organization that aims to counter gun violence.

“He was my champion.”

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