Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Arrests Of International Arms Traffickers For Conspiracy To Kill Americans And Related Terrorism Charges
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michele Leonhart, Administrator of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”), announced today the arrests of CRISTIAN VINTILA (“VINTILA”), MASSIMO ROMAGNOLI (“ROMAGNOLI”), and VIRGIL FLAVIU GEORGESCU (“GEORGESCU”), international arms traffickers charged with conspiring to sell large quantities of military-grade weaponry to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the “FARC”) – a designated foreign terrorist organization – to be used to kill Americans in Colombia. VINTILA and GEORGESCU were arrested in Podgorica, Montenegro, by Montenegrin authorities Monday as they prepared to finalize the transaction. ROMAGNOLI was arrested in Montenegro yesterday by Montenegrin authorities.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Vintila, Romagnoli, and Georgescu attempted to sell military-grade weapons, from pistols to rocket launchers, to people they believed were associated with a terrorist group. Now they will no longer be able to participate in this illicit trade.”
DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart said: “Ruthless global weapons traffickers pose a direct threat to the safety and stability of the United States and to the rule of law. DEA's strong international partnerships have once again made the difference in disrupting a conspiracy that could have put innocent American lives in grave danger. Nothing is more important than the overall safety and security of our citizens. Thankfully, these alleged conspirators are out of business and will hopefully soon face U.S. justice.”
According to the Indictment unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court:
Since May 2014, VINTILA has been a Romania-based weapons trafficker, ROMAGNOLI has been a Europe-based weapons trafficker, who is able to procure fraudulent end-user certificates (“EUCs”) for military-grade weaponry, and GEORGESCU has been a Romania-based weapons broker. Between May and October 2014, VINTILA, ROMAGNOLI, and GEORGESCU conspired to sell an arsenal of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons, with the understanding that the weapons would go to the FARC to be used by the FARC against the United States. During a series of recorded telephone calls and in-person meetings, VINTILA, ROMAGNOLI, and GEORGESCU agreed to sell the weapons to three confidential sources working with the DEA (“CSs”), who represented that they were acquiring these weapons for the FARC. VINTILA, ROMAGNOLI, and GEORGESCU agreed to provide these weapons to the CSs with the specific understanding that the weapons would be used to kill Americans and, in particular, to shoot down American helicopters and airplanes. ROMAGNOLI further agreed to provide fraudulent EUCs, in order to make the illegal sale of weapons look legitimate.
During their consensually recorded meetings, VINTILA and ROMAGNOLI provided the CSs with catalogues of military-grade weapons they were prepared to provide the FARC. VINTILA gave the CSs a catalogue of weapons that included pistols, machine guns, and other high-powered weaponry, and ROMAGNOLI showed the CSs a catalogue that included automatic weapons and shoulder-fired rocket launchers. ROMAGNOLI additionally showed one of the CSs a sample fraudulent EUC. VINTILA, ROMAGNOLI, and GEORGESCU also discussed the logistics of receiving payment for the weapons from the CSs and delivering the weapons to the FARC.
The Indictment charges VINTILA, 44, ROMAGNOLI, 43, and GEORGESCU, 42, with two separate terrorism offenses:
Count One charges all three defendants with conspiracy to kill United States officers or employees, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1114 and 1117. If convicted of Count One, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Count Two charges all three defendants with conspiracy to provide material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2339B. If convicted of Count Two, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative efforts of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, the DEA’s Bucharest Country Office, the DEA’s Rome Country Office, the Montenegrin National Police, and the Romanian Authorities. The arrests are also the result of the close cooperative efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrea Lee Surratt and Ilan Graff are in charge of the prosecution.
The allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.