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Counter Proliferation Investigation Unit

HSI dismantles international gun trafficking ring

NEW YORK – A staff sergeant with a National Guard special forces unit and two Chinese nationals were charged and arrested in connection with their roles in a multi-national firearms trafficking ring. These charges stem from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); and the U.S. Department of Commerce's (DOC) Office of Export Enforcement.

Joseph Debose, 29; Zhifu Lin, 25; and Lilan Li, 23, were involved in the illegal export of firearms to China. Debose was arrested May 20, 2012, in a sting operation by federal special agents in Smithfield, N.C. At the time of his arrest, Debose was carrying a loaded .45-caliber pistol. In addition, agents seized 12 other firearms, which were intended for export.

"The defendants allegedly altered the serial numbers on various weapons to disguise their origin in order to export them to China – an indication these guns were going to fall into the wrong hands," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "HSI maintains a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the illegal export of weapons on the U.S. Munitions List."

"The unlawful purchasing and trafficking in firearms is a serious crime that feeds and amplifies the violence that is plaguing so many communities in this nation and around the world," said Joseph Anarumo, Jr., special agent in charge of ATF New York Field Division. "This investigation is a testament to the collective resolve of federal law enforcement to stem the flow of illegal firearms both within and outside of our nation's borders."

"The potential harm that can result from the movement of illegal firearms through the New York City metropolitan area cannot be overstated," said Victor W. Lessoff, acting special agent in charge of IRS New York Field Office. "IRS Criminal Investigation is enthusiastic about lending its financial investigative expertise to this ongoing investigation."

"Special agents from the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security Office of Export Enforcement are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to stem the flow of firearms that are illegally smuggled out of the country," said Sidney Simon, special agent in charge of DOC Office of Export Enforcement, New York Field Office. "We will continue to pursue arrests and convictions that ultimately shut down these illicit schemes."

"The defendants in North Carolina and New York allegedly ran a pipeline of illegal firearms from the United States to China. We will utilize all available resources to stop the export of such weapons," said Loretta E. Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. "The arrest of Debose marks the latest in a series of charges brought by this office against international gun traffickers."

According to court documents, between December 2010 and April 2012, Debose provided multiple shipments of firearms to associates who then secreted the weapons in packages and transported them to shipping companies to be sent to customers in China. The smuggling scheme came to light after authorities in China seized a package containing firearms with defaced serial numbers that had been shipped from Queens, N.Y. Thereafter, U.S. law enforcement special agents traveled to China and examined the firearms, which were determined to be listed on the U.S. Munitions List, therefore, barred from export without a license issued by the State Department. Utilizing forensic techniques, special agents learned that one of the seized weapons had originally been purchased in North Carolina. Among the weapons seized in China were those Debose provided to his associates for export.

Last month, an indictment was unsealed in a Brooklyn, N.Y., federal court charging Lin and Li with illegally exporting firearms – including the aforementioned seized firearms – from Queens, N.Y., to China without obtaining the required license from the State Department. In doing so, they violated the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. Lin was also charged with operating an illegal gun-dealing business and transporting firearms with obliterated serial numbers.

The defendants each face up to 20 years' imprisonment if convicted.