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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Iowa

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, October 31, 2016

Third Person Sentenced in Scheme to Smuggle Guns to Lebanon is Ordered to Serve 342 Months in Federal Prison

Ali Afif Al Herz, age 51, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was sentenced today and following his plea of guilty to various charges related to a scheme to illegally export hundreds of firearms to Lebanon. 

Al Herz previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to deal in firearms without a license and to illegally ship firearms in interstate and foreign commerce; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering; and one count of violating the Arms Export Control Act.  In addition, Al Herz previously pleaded guilty to one count of possessing firearms after having previously been convicted of a crime of domestic violence. 

Al Herz was sentenced by Linda R. Reade, Chief Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, following sentencing proceeding held in Cedar Rapids.  The court heard evidence relating to the sentencing on October 14, 2016, and reconvened today to hear additional evidence and impose sentence.

Al Herz, was sentenced to serve 342 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a 3 year term of supervised release.  Al Herz was was ordered to pay a fine of $150,000.

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.

Ali Afif Al Herz’s sister in law, Sarah Majid Zeaiter, was sentenced on October 14, 2016, to serve 87 months’ imprisonment.  Zeaiter was also ordered to pay $33,869 in cash related to the scheme.  The money was seized from the apartment Zeaiter shared with her husband, Bassem Herz, above the Pizza Daddy restaurant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Each of the three sentenced defendants has also been jointly and severally ordered to pay a money judgment in excess of $48,000, and to forfeit any interest in seized firearms, ammunition, and Bobcat skid loaders.

Evidence related to the sentencing of Bassem Afif Herz was presented on October 13 & 14, 2016, in Cedar Rapids. The sentencing hearing for Bassem Afif Herz will resume on November 7, 2016, at which time Bassem Herz will be sentenced.

The four were charged following an investigation 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.  Further investigation disclosed the group had previously sent two similar shipments to Lebanon in March and August 2014.  Each of the 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 maintains a residence, for as much as ten times their value in the United States.  Photos of the residence and of some of the weapons and ammunition seized during the investigation are attached to this press release.

During sentencing, Chief Judge Reade found Al Herz was a leader and organizer of the criminal activity involving five or more participants and that “was otherwise extensive.”  Judge Reade also noted there were several aggravating factors including that the offense involved numerous military style assault rifles, the defendant had sought to purchase fully automatic weapons, the number of guns involved, and the fact the guns were knowingly being shipped to an area of the world controlled by a terrorist organization.

Kevin W. Techau, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa stated, “These defendants were bold and brazen gun traffickers. They knew they were violating U.S. laws enacted to prevent smuggling to foreign countries. Stopping the illegal flow of weapons, weapons parts, and ammunition is a key priority for law enforcement.”

“We are especially thankful to the citizens of Iowa who assisted law enforcement by providing tips and leads that resulted in an investigation of an international weapons smuggler by Homeland Security Investigations,” said Alex Khu, Special Agent in Charge for HSI St. Paul, which oversees Iowa. “This investigation exemplifies the importance of maintaining strong ties to the communities that law enforcement serves, and that law abiding citizens can truly make a difference by reporting suspicious activities. Had law enforcement not intervened, Mr. Al Herz would have exported a large number of weapons that could have been used in countless crimes. HSI is committed to investigating and seeking charges against those intent on violating U.S. export laws.”

“Among ATF’s top priorities is ensuring that firearms traffickers are aggressively investigated and swiftly brought to justice. This is an excellent example of such an investigation that was worked cooperatively by multiple partner agencies with outstanding results,” said Jeff Fulton, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Kansas City Field Division.

“The joint effort to bring this case to a successful conclusion undoubtedly saved lives due to the number and types of weapons recovered during the course of the investigation. The FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to combat violent criminal activity and protect our communities,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge Randall Thysse, Omaha Division. 

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 the Diplomatic Security Service, United States Marshals Service, Iowa State  Patrol, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, Iowa Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection, Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, Iowa County Sheriff’s Office, Linn County Sheriff’s Office, Vinton Police Department, University of Iowa Police Department, Iowa City Police Department, Cedar Rapids Police Department, Marion Police Department, and Hiawatha Police Department.

Court file information is available at https://ecf.iand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.  The case file number is 15-CR-00054-LRR.

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Topic(s): 
Firearms Offenses
Component(s): 
Updated November 3, 2016