Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Affirms Gun Smugglers’ Sentences
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit this week affirmed the sentences of Ali Afif Al Herz, Bassem Afif Herz, and Sarah Majid Zeaiter.
The three defendants were sentenced in 2016 by United States District Court Judge Linda R. Reade to terms of imprisonment following their pleas of guilty to charges relating to their involvement in a scheme to unlawfully export more than 250 firearms to Lebanon between 2014 and 2015.
Ali Afif Al Herz was sentenced to serve 342 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $150,000. Bassem Afif Herz was sentenced to serve 97 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Bassem’s wife, Sarah Majid Zeaiter was sentenced to serve 87 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release.
In the decision issued on June 11, 2018, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s sentencing findings and determined the sentences were reasonable. Notably, the Court of Appeals found Ali and Bassem each played a leadership role in the scheme and that, although Zeaiter played a lesser role, the district court did not err by not reducing her sentence on that ground because she “was aware of the scope and structure of the offense conduct and actively participated in the well-planned coordinated scheme.” The Court of Appeals found Zeaiter was not a minor or minimal participant.
The Court of Appeals also agreed that Ali and Bassem were each responsible for the illegal shipment of a large number of firearms to Lebanon. In addition, the Court of Appeals found that the district court properly ruled that Ali falsely denied some of the offense conduct and that Bassem gave false testimony under oath at their respective sentencing hearings. The Court of Appeals found the district court properly considered these and other factors in determining the appropriate sentences for Ali and Bassem.
Two other defendants who were convicted and sentenced in connection with the scheme did not appeal their sentences. Adam Al Herz, the son of Ali Afif Al Herz, was sentenced on October 13, 2016, to serve 240 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release. Fadi Yassine, a Lebanese citizen, was sentenced in August 2017, to serve 57 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a three-year term of supervised release.
The investigation that led to the convictions was triggered in early 2015 by a report from a firearms dealer concerning suspicious firearms transactions conducted by the group.
The initial investigation led to the March 2015 seizure of 53 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition concealed inside Bobcat skid loaders packed inside a shipping container at the Norfolk, Virginia seaport. The container was destined for Lebanon. Subsequent investigation led to the May 2015 seizure of a second shipping container in Cedar Rapids, which was also destined for Lebanon. Ninety-nine guns and thousands more rounds of ammunition were found concealed inside Bobcat skid loaders packed inside the second container. It was also determined that the group had previously sent two similar shipments to Lebanon in March and August 2014. Each of the four containers had been loaded and shipped from Midamar Corporation in Cedar Rapids.
Evidence presented at the sentencing hearings showed the containers were destined for an area in southern Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, a group designated by the United States as a terrorist organization. Among the guns shipped were more than 30 military style assault rifles. Other evidence presented in the case showed the guns could be sold in Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon, where Ali Afif Al Herz maintained a residence, for as much as ten times their value in the United States. Photos of some of the weapons and ammunition seized during the investigation are attached below.
The cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Richard L. Murphy and were investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Federal Bureau of Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, with assistance from numerous other state and local law enforcement agencies.
Court file information is available at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl. The case file number is 15-CR-00054-LRR.
Follow us on Twitter @USAO_NDIA.