Fourth Defendant Pleads Guilty in Connection with Scheme to Unlawfully Ship Firearms to Lebanon
Bassem Afif Herz, age 31, pleaded guilty today in United States District Court in Cedar Rapids, to charges relating to a scheme to illegally ship firearms and ammunition to Lebanon.
Herz was originally charged along with his wife, Sarah Majid Zeaiter; his brother, Ali Afif Ali Herz; and his nephew, Adam Al Herz, in a criminal complaint filed in May 2015. The affidavit supporting the complaint alleged that between about August 2014 and May 11, 2015, three shipping containers originating from Cedar Rapids were loaded with Bobcat skid loaders, clothing, and various other items with an intended destination of Beirut, Lebanon. The first container was not interdicted. On about March 26, 2015, the second container was interdicted at the outbound port in Norfolk, Virginia, where it was found to contain 53 firearms and more than 6800 rounds of ammunition secreted in three Bobcat skid loaders inside the container. On May 8, 2015, a third container, loaded and shipped from a Cedar Rapids business, was searched and found to contain an additional 99 firearms and over 9500 rounds of ammunition. The firearms and ammunition were again secreted within two Bobcat skid loaders in the container.
Herz pleaded guilty today to: (a) one count of conspiring to: deal in firearms without a license; ship and transport firearms and ammunition in interstate commerce; make false statements to licensed firearms dealers; fail to give notice to common carriers; and violate the Arms Export Control Act; (b) one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and (c) one count of violating the Arms Export Control Act. In total, Herz could be sentenced to serve 45 years imprisonment; pay a $1,750,000 fine and $300 in special assessments; and serve 13 years of supervised release.
Herz’s wife, brother, and nephew each pleaded guilty in United States District Court in Cedar Rapids to similar charges on March 10 and 11, 2016.
Sentencing proceedings in each case will be set at a later date.
In a plea agreement unsealed at the time of the guilty plea today, Herz admitted there were a total of four shipments of guns sent from Cedar Rapids and destined for Lebanon, between March 2014 and May 2015. Each of the shipping containers was shipped from Midamar Corporation in Cedar Rapids and contained Bobcat skid loaders in which firearms and ammunition were concealed. Proceeds of the guns sales were used to purchase more guns and ammunition and to further the illegal scheme.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Richard Murphy and was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Anyone with information concerning this matter is requested to contact Homeland Security Investigations at 319-286-4680.
Court file information at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl. The case file number is 15-CR-0054-LRR.
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