Former Soldier Pleads Guilty to Participation in International Arms Smuggling Ring
Defendant Supplied Semi-Automatic Weapons for Export to China
Joseph Debose, a resident of North Carolina and a former Staff Sergeant in a U.S. Special Forces National Guard Unit, pled guilty today in United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York before the Honorable Eric N. Vitaliano to violating the Arms Export Control Act. According to court documents, Debose provided multiple shipments of firearms to co-conspirators who then secreted the weapons in packages and transported them to shipping companies to be sent to customers in China. The weapons included numerous semiautomatic handguns, rifles and shotguns. When sentenced, Debose faces up to 20 years in prison.
The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York; Joseph Anarumo, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), New York Field Division; Victor W. Lessoff, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), New York Field Office; and Sidney Simon, Special Agent-in-Charge, Department of Commerce (DOC), Office of Export Enforcement, New York Field Office.
Authorities initially learned of the arms smuggling scheme after police in China seized a package containing firearms with defaced serial numbers, which had been shipped from Queens, New York. Upon learning of the seizure of the weapons, U.S. law enforcement officials traveled to China to examine the evidence. The types of weapons seized by the Chinese authorities have been designated by the President of the United States on the United States Munitions List, and may not be exported without a license from the U.S. State Department. With the aid of forensic techniques, agents determined that one of the weapons seized in China had originally been purchased in North Carolina. Agents then traced that gun, and others, to Debose. Agents arrested Debose in a sting operation when he arrived at a meeting location with a truckload of guns for the next shipment. Debose was carrying a loaded .45 caliber pistol at the time of his arrest. To date, four individuals have been charged with weapons trafficking and export offenses as a result of this investigation.
“The defendant traded the honor of his position in the National Guard for the money he received for smuggling arms to China. In blatant disregard for everything he was sworn to uphold, the defendant placed numerous firearms into a black market pipeline from the United States to China,” stated U.S. Attorney Lynch. “We utilize all available resources to stop the flow of illegal weapons through New York and overseas. This case demonstrates the effectiveness of a collaboration among multiple federal law enforcement agencies and our foreign partners to address a global challenge.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the federal agencies that worked closely together to investigate the case.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth DuCharme, with assistance from Trial Attorney David Recker of the Department of Justice Counterespionage Section. Assistance also was provided by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Northern District of West Virginia and the Eastern District of North Carolina.
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