19 August, 2004 LAWFUEL – The Net’s best for legal news, law news, law articles Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Julie Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and Jesus Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced today that a federal grand jury sitting in Miami, Florida, returned an Indictment charging six (6) defendants in connection with a conspiracy to export arms to South America. The defendants, Rafael Samper, Edgar Semprun, Antonio Tarrab, Raul Gomez DeMolina, Bilmer Paz, and Rodney Sharp, are charged in a nine (9) count Indictment with violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968 for their participation in an organization that supplies arms, ammunition, and other military supplies to organized paramilitary groups in South America.
The Indictment charges the defendants with purchasing and selling firearms and ammunition for profit in the United States and then arranging for their illegal export by sea to Venezuela. Specifically, count 1 of the Indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to export and attempt to export defense articles, in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, Title 22, United States Code, Section 2778(b), and to engage in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, in violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968, Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(a)(1)(A). Count 2 of the Indictment charges defendants Semprun and Tarrab with attempts to violate the Arms Export Control Act. Count 3 of the Indictment charges defendants Samper, DeMolina, and Sharp with dealing in firearms without a license.
Counts 4-6 of the Indictment charge defendants Paz, Semprun, and Tarrab, all citizens of Venezuela and Colombia, with being aliens admitted to the United States on non-immigrant visas in possession of firearms, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(5)(B). Count 7 of the Indictment charges defendants Samper, DeMolina, Sharp, and Paz with possessing firearms that have obliterated or altered serial numbers, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(k). Counts 8 and 9 of the Indictment charge defendants Samper and Sharp with possessing machine guns, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(o)(1).
If convicted on charges of violating the Arms Export Control Act, the defendants face a statutory maximum sentence of up to ten (10) years’ imprisonment. If convicted of dealing in firearms without a license, the defendants charged with that violation face a statutory maximum sentence of up to five (5) years’ imprisonment. Upon conviction on charges related to being an alien in possession of firearms, or of possession of machineguns, the defendants charged with those violations face a statutory maximum sentence of up to ten (10) years’ imprisonment. If convicted of possession of firearms with obliterated or altered serial numbers, the defendants charged with that violation face a statutory maximum sentence of up to five (5) years’ imprisonment. If convicted, the defendants face fines of up to $1 million.
The Indictment stems from an investigation that began when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”) responded to a call from tenants of a Miami area warehouse facility regarding the discovery of a crate filled with firearms in a neighboring warehouse unit on June 12, 2004.
The tenants had broken into the neighboring unit to stop a flood of water pouring into their unit from next door. Upon arrival at the warehouse unit, ATF Agents found a crate filled with AK-47 type rifles lying open on the floor next to a damaged toilet, apparently the source of the flooding. The crate had fallen through the warehouse ceiling and damaged the toilet. The hole in the ceiling revealed the presence of more crates and boxes, all filled with firearms. In all, agents found approximately fifty-five (55) firearms, including approximately twenty (20) fully automatic machine guns, nineteen (19) AK-47 type rifles, and nine (9) handguns in the warehouse. In addition to the firearms, agents also found more than 206,000 rounds of military type ammunition, more than five (5) pounds of gun powder (suitable for explosives), and military combat boots.
After the discovery of the weapons and other items on June 12th, ATF, together with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), investigated defendant Samper, the tenant of the warehouse unit where the weapons were found. During the course of the investigation, agents identified other members of the organization, which has been buying and selling weapons and ammunition for several years. As reflected in the Indictment, the weapons and ammunition are purchased by the organization in the United States and sold for profit to the highest bidders, usually in Venezuela and Colombia. Many of the weapons and ammunition purchases are made by buyers and suppliers acting on behalf of the Colombian FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolutionaries de Colombia) and the Colombian Paramilitary Group AUC (Auto Defensas Unidas de Colombia). Both of these groups have been designated by the United States State Department as terrorist organizations.
Further investigation revealed that the firearms and ammunition found in the warehouse unit on June 12th had been purchased from other members of the organization, including defendants DeMolina and Sharp, the primary weapons and ammunition suppliers for the organization. Working with a confidential informant, law enforcement set up an undercover warehouse facility and introduced defendant Semprun to the warehouse operator. Defendant Semprun proceeded to work with other members of the organization to purchase military style ammunition and load it into the undercover warehouse. Defendant Tarrab traveled to the United States from Venezuela to assist with the purchases of ammunition and with the use of the undercover warehouse. With others, defendants Semprun and Tarrab loaded 247 cases (247,000 rounds) of Wolf 7.62×39 mm ammunition into large freezers and refrigerators inside the warehouse.
On July 23rd, these defendants loaded the filled refrigerators and freezers, along with other empty appliances, into a forty (40) foot shipping container and sent it off to the Port of Miami for shipment to Venezuela. ICE and ATF agents, with the assistance of Customs and Border Protection, unloaded the ammunition from the container. Once the container had gone out of the warehouse, Semprun and Tarrab began negotiations for purchases of more ammunition, also for shipment to Venezuela.
On August 4th, ATF and ICE agents executed a search warrant at the residence of defendant Sharp. There, agents found a cache of approximately 168 firearms, including fully automatic M-1 machine guns, at least 40,000 rounds of ammunition, and all of the tools and parts necessary for the building of many more automatic weapons. They also found supplies of military equipment, including camouflage gear, canteens, helmets, and body bags. Rodney Sharp is believed to be in China.
Also on August 4th, agents arrested Rafael Samper, Edgar Semprun, Antonio Tarrab, Bilmer Paz, and Miguel Palacios. Miguel Palacios was not indicted with the others. On August 6th, Raul Demolina was arrested in Tennessee.
To date, the investigation has led to the seizure of more than 700,000 rounds of ammunition, more than 200 weapons, and all of the tools and parts necessary for the building of many more automatic weapons.
Mr. Jiménez stated, “This case is a great example of our ongoing efforts to deter and disrupt terrorism in the Southern District of Florida. As charged, these defendants conspired to illegally ship firearms and ammunition to designated terrorist groups in Colombia through Venezuela. Those who illegally possess and export firearms are a threat to not only our community but also the citizens and residents of other countries. The public should rest assured that we are working very hard to protect to protect our communities from the threats posed by terrorist organizations and their merchants.”
Julie Torres, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives stated, “The cornerstones of ATF’s mission are combating terrorism, preventing violent crime, and protecting the public. Through a thorough investigation and the sharing of information, we were able to achieve this goal.”
“These arrests send a clear message that ICE remains vigilant in its efforts aimed at preventing these dangerous weapons from ending up in the wrong hands. It must be among our highest priorities to intercede and interdict the export and trafficking of arms and ammunition to
groups who may seek to engage in terrorism or who pose a potential threat to our national security and public safety, ” said Jesus Torres, ICE Miami Special Agent-in-Charge.
Mr. Jiménez commended the investigative efforts of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, the United States Secret Service, and the Miami-Dade Police Department, for their outstanding efforts in exhaustively following through on leads and working with the public and the law enforcement community. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Melissa Damian.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls