SEATTLE — A U.S. permanent resident and his Thai national brother pleaded guilty Tuesday to a conspiracy charge for leading a scheme to smuggle firearms components from the U.S. to Thailand.
Nares Lekhakul, 36, a Thai national and U.S. lawful permanent resident living in Bellevue, and his Thai brother Naris Lekhakul, 42, now face recommended sentences of 48 months and 30 months respectively.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents say in documents filed with the court that Nares Lekhakul and four other co-conspirators facilitated the shipment of firearms components such as pistol magazines to Naris Lekhakul, who was living in Thailand. The group circumvented U.S. export controls by not obtaining the required State Department export licenses. They concealed their smuggling efforts by mislabeling packages as "hobby parts" or "glow in the dark marker sets." The group used fake names and invoices and packed various firearms components in specific ways to thwart detection by X-ray scanners. In all, the group is believed to be responsible for more than 240 shipments of restricted firearms components.
Co-conspirators Witt Sittikornwanish, 24, and Sangsit Mowanna, 35, U.S. citizens living in Los Angeles, and Thai nationals Wimol Brumme, 41, of Las Vegas, and Supanee Saenguthai, 35 of Berkeley, Calif., have also pleaded guilty in the case.
The State Department's U.S. Munitions List consists of categories of defense articles and services that cannot be exported without a license issued by the department. 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 crime of conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Prosecutors note the sentencing judge is not bound by the recommendation and could impose any sentence up to the maximum. The brothers are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 24, 2014.
HSI investigated the case with the assistance of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington is prosecuting.