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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 18, 2016

Charlotte Man Charged for Attempting Smuggle And Illegally Export Munitions Overseas

Law Enforcement Seized 27 Firearms Hidden Inside Home Appliances and 3,500 Rounds of Ammunition Destined for Ghana

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A Charlotte man is facing federal charges for illegally obtaining and attempting to smuggle and export munitions to Ghana, West Africa, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The nine count indictment against Richmond Akoto Attah, 33, of Charlotte, was unsealed today in court, charging him with one count of violating the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), one count of illegal firearms dealing, two counts of smuggling goods from the United States and four counts of making false statements to a firearms dealer. 

C.J. Hyman, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Charlotte Field Division; John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Nick Annan, Special Agent in Charge of ICE/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Georgia and the Carolinas; and Patti Fitzpatrick, Port Director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Area in Charlotte join U.S. Attorney Rose in making today’s announcement. 

“The indictment unsealed today alleges that Attah went to great lengths to carry out and conceal his gun trafficking scheme.  He falsified information to obtain firearms illegally and then tried to evade our country’s export restrictions on munitions by attempting to smuggle guns to West Africa.  Fortunately, our law enforcement partners detected and intercepted Attah’s dangerous plot,” said U.S. Attorney Rose.  “The consequences of gun trafficking can be grave.  Firearms illegally exported overseas can end up in the wrong hands, and potentially be used for criminal acts against innocent victims, including Americans.  The vigorous prosecution of gun traffickers ensures the safety not only of our citizens but people abroad,” Rose added.

“ATF is committed to using any and all resources to apprehend firearm traffickers and keep firearms out of the hands of violent criminals both domestic and abroad.  The successful conclusion of this investigation could not have occurred without the outstanding partnerships we have with our law enforcement partners,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge Hyman.

“The FBI’s technical expertise and global reach in this case proves our dedication to fighting weapons smuggling both in the United States and overseas. This investigation is yet another example of what can be accomplished when we join forces with our federal law enforcement partners and work toward a common goal,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Strong.     

“Firearms regulations exist to ensure weapons crossing international borders are properly accounted for to preserve public safety and to keep them out of the hands of dangerous criminals,” said Special Agent in Charge Anna of HSI in Atlanta. “This case shows the significant consequences awaiting individuals who attempt to illegally smuggle weapons and ammunition across U.S. borders.”

“This is another example of the broad scope of U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations here in North Carolina and beyond,” said Patti Fitzpatrick, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Area Port Director in Charlotte.  “CBP officers remain committed to working with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in an effort to keep all safe.”

According to allegations contained in the indictment, beginning in at least 2013 and continuing to the present, Attah purchased numerous firearms and ammunition he intended to smuggle and illegally export to Ghana.  The indictment alleges that Attah obtained the firearms by misstating on the required federal forms that he was the actual buyer and transferee of the firearms.  According to the indictment, Attah is not a federally licensed firearms dealer and does not possess a license to export firearms or ammunition to Ghana or any other country.

According to allegations in the indictment, from on or about September 2013 to December 2015, Attah purchased approximately 63 firearms and 3,500 rounds of ammunition from various stores, Internet vendors and at gun shows.  On or about September 4, 2015, Attah travelled from Charlotte to Ghana, returning on October 10, 2015.  According to the charges, during his return trip Attah hid $30,100 dollars in his luggage, falsely declaring on his customs paperwork that he was only bringing $350 back into the United States.  The indictment also alleges that from on or about November 2015, to December 13, 2015, Attah purchased approximately 22 firearms and ammunition from dealers in North Carolina and online.  Attah then hid 27 firearms, including semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, inside a washing machine and a dryer, and 3,500 rounds of ammunition inside a barrel.  The indictment alleges that Attah placed the washer, dryer, and barrel inside a shipping container and attempted to have it shipped from Charlotte to Ghana.  The indictment alleges that U.S. Customs officers recovered the firearms and ammunition before it was shipped outside the United States.

Attah had his initial appearance in federal court today.  The penalty for violating the AECA is a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine or twice the amount of the criminally derived proceeds, whichever is greater.  The penalty for illegal firearms dealing is a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  The penalty for smuggling goods from the U.S. is a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count, and the penalty for making false statements in connection with the acquisition of a firearm is a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count.  Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. 

An indictment is not a finding of guilt.  An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceeding.

ATF, FBI, HSI and CBP are handling the investigation. In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorney Rose also thanked the North Carolina Highway Patrol, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department and the Chatham County Sheriff's Office in Georgia for their assistance in this case.

Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Savage and Kevin Zolot of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte are prosecuting the case.

           

Updated February 18, 2016