Brothers Sentenced to Prison for Conspiracy to Illegally Export Firearm Parts to Thailand
Bellevue Resident And Brother From Thailand Continued Scheme Even After Contact With Law Enforcement
Two brothers who were arrested in June 2013 in connection with a conspiracy to illegally ship firearms parts to Thailand, were sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to prison terms for conspiracy, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. NARES LEKHAKUL, 36, a lawful permanent resident of Bellevue, Washington, was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of supervised release. His brother, NARIS LEKHAKUL, 42, a Thai citizen arrested in June 2013 at SeaTac Airport was sentenced to three years in prison. He likely will be deported following his prison term. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Richard A. Jones told NARIS LEKHAKUL, “It was very clear to you … that you were not to engage in this activity… what is very troubling is that you continued to recruit others after being told this conduct was illegal.”
“These defendants used patsies and ruses to hide and protect their scheme to smuggle firearms parts to Thailand,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “They knew they were violating Thai and U.S. laws that seek to prevent smuggling. Stopping the illegal flow of weapons and weapons parts is a key priority for law enforcement.”
In their plea agreements the brothers admit that NARIS LEKHAKUL, while living in Thailand, identified the firearms parts he wanted ordered and shipped overseas. Initially the gun parts were sent to his brother NARES’ home in Bellevue, Washington, where NARES LEKHAKUL attempted to disguise the shipments which were sent on to Thailand. After one shipment was seized in 2011, NARIS LEKHAKUL recruited four other people to receive the shipments of firearms parts, disguise them, and send them on to Thailand. The co-conspirators did not obtain appropriate licenses to make the shipments. The co-conspirators would use fake names and fake invoices to try to avoid detection, and they packed various firearms parts in specific ways to try to avoid detection by x-ray scanners. Members of the group shipped various firearms parts with false labels. For example, in one instance they shipped magazines for .45 caliber handguns, while labeling them “Vented steel case for electronic components” or “replacement springs and metal caps for bottling machine.” Other shipments were labeled as “hobby parts,” or “glow in the dark marker sets.” In all, the group is believed to be responsible for more than 250 shipments of restricted firearms components, worth more than $750,000. The defendants did not ship any assembled firearms or entire firearms disassembled.
“These defendants purposely circumvented U.S. arms controls put in place to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of transnational criminal organizations and foreign enemies,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “Enforcing these export laws is a priority mission for our HSI special agents.”
In addition to the LEKHAKUL brothers, four additional defendants have also pleaded guilty. Witt Sittikornwanish, 24, a U.S. citizen residing in the Los Angeles area was sentenced to 10 months in prison, Sangsit Manowanna, 35, a U.S. citizen residing in the Los Angeles area, was sentenced to ten months in prison and Supanee Saenguthai, 35, a Thai citizen residing in Berkeley, California was sentenced to probation. Wimol Brumme, 41, a Thai citizen residing in Las Vegas will be sentenced on February 28, 2014.
The Department of State promulgates the United States Munitions List, which consists of categories of defense articles and services that cannot be exported without a license issued by the Department of State. The U.S. Munitions List includes the firearms’ parts and components shipped in this case. As a result, the export of firearms components requires an export license.
The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Todd Greenberg and Thomas Woods with assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice National Security Division, Counterespionage Section.