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Press Release

Pennsylvania Man Sentenced to Prison for Torture and Illegally Exporting Weapons Parts and Related Services to Iraq

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A Pennsylvania man was sentenced today to 70 years in prison for torturing an Estonian citizen in 2015 in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and for the illegal export of weapons parts and related services.

According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Ross Roggio, 55, of Stroudsburg, arranged for Kurdish soldiers to abduct and detain the victim at a Kurdish military compound, where Roggio suffocated the victim with a belt, threatened to cut off one of his fingers, and directed Kurdish soldiers to repeatedly beat, choke, tase, and otherwise physically and mentally abuse the victim over a 39-day period. The victim was an employee at a weapons factory that Roggio was developing in the Kurdistan region of Iraq that was intended to manufacture automatic rifles and pistols.

“Ross Roggio had his victim abducted and detained at a Kurdish military compound in Iraq, where Roggio and others physically and mentally tortured the victim over the course of 39 days,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri, head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “During that time, Roggio suffocated the victim and directed others to beat, choke, and tase him. Roggio’s victim worked at a weapons factory in Iraq, where Roggio illegally sent weapons parts and illegally provided services, in violation of export controls laws. Today’s sentence—following the second-ever conviction under the federal torture statute—shows that, no matter where such deplorable acts occur, the United States is committed to holding the perpetrators accountable.”

“As proven at trial and demonstrated by today’s sentence, Mr. Roggio committed egregious human rights abuses and smuggled restricted firearm components from the United States to launch an unsanctioned weapons factory,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “We will not waver in bringing to justice those that violate our export controls in contravention of our national security and foreign policy priorities.”

“The sentence imposed by the court demonstrates the seriousness of Ross Roggio’s crimes and brings some measure of justice for his torture victim,” said U.S. Attorney Gerard M. Karam for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. “Violence against the dignity and human rights of any victim cannot be tolerated and our office will continue to prioritize and pursue those who would do so in violation of federal law. Ross Roggio was also convicted of United States export laws related to illegally producing firearms in Kurdistan, Iraq. Though more technical in nature, these laws are no less important and are designed to take into account human rights considerations on a larger scale, to limit access to our most sensitive technologies and weapons, and to promote regional stability. I commend all the prosecutors and law enforcement agents who worked tirelessly to bring justice in this matter.” 

In connection with the weapons factory project, Roggio exported firearms parts and tools without the required approvals by the U.S. government. He also illegally trained foreign persons in the operation, assembly, and manufacturing of the M4 automatic rifle.

“Torture is among the grievous crimes the FBI investigates and this is the second time we have been able to bring justice under the federal torture statute,” said Executive Assistant Director Timothy Langan of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. “Our investigation into Roggio’s abominable crimes and today’s sentencing would not be possible without the sheer courage of the victim to tell his story. The FBI and our international partners stand with victims by standing up to human rights violations wherever they occur.” 

“Today’s sentence highlights our commitment to stopping those who commit human rights abuses and threaten the security of the U.S. and partner nations,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). “Thanks to our close interagency and international cooperation, Roggio has been brought to justice.”

“Export evasion is often not a standalone crime,” said Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod of the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). “Here, the same defendant who was illegally exporting weapons parts to his Iraqi weapons factory was also brutally torturing one of his employees there.”

A federal jury convicted Roggio in May 2023 of 33 counts of torture, conspiracy to commit torture, conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, exporting weapons parts and services to Iraq without the approval of the U.S. Department of State, exporting weapons tools to Iraq without the approval of the U.S. Department of Commerce, smuggling goods, wire fraud, and money laundering.

Roggio was the second defendant to be convicted of torture since the federal torture statute went into effect in 1994.

The FBI and HSI investigated the torture and were joined in the investigation of the arms export violations by BIS’ Office of Export Enforcement.

Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd K. Hinkley for the Middle District of Pennsylvania prosecuted the case.

The Estonian Internal Security Service, Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, and Pennsylvania State Police also provided valuable assistance.

Members of the public who have information about human rights violators in the United States are urged to contact U.S. law enforcement through the FBI tip line at 1-800-CALL-FBI or the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE, or complete the FBI online tip form or the ICE online tip form.

Updated April 16, 2024

Export Control
Press Release Number: 24-449