MIAMI - On Tuesday, Chanoch Miller, 53, an Israeli national, and Joseph O'Toole, 79, of Claremont, Calif., pleaded guilty to charges of knowingly and willfully conspiring to export AK-47 assault rifles from the U.S. to Somalia, without first having registered with and obtained a license from the U.S. Department of State, Directorate of Defense Trade Controls -- in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, and the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations -- following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.
"This investigation is another fine example ensuring that the sale and distribution of assault rifles is done lawfully in protecting our national security," said Anthony V. Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Miami. "This case will send a message to those individuals who attempt to profit by illegally supplying weapons to other countries. ICE will continue to aggressively pursue those who violate U.S. export laws."
According to the indictment and statements made during the plea hearing, beginning in April, Miller contacted O'Toole, a former U.S. Air Force colonel and F-4 fighter pilot, to arrange for the transportation of approximately 6,000 fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles from Bosnia to Somalia. The defendants used false End User Certificates to conceal the fact that the weapons were ultimately destined for Somalia. To further facilitate the transportation of the AK-47 assault rifles, O'Toole contacted an individual who, unbeknownst to O'Toole, was working undercover for ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and the DCIS. As the investigation progressed, Miller agreed to purchase 700 fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles from the undercover agent. The assault rifles were to be shipped from the United States through Panama and then to Somalia. Miller paid $116,000 to the undercover agent as partial payment of the transportation costs and commissions to O'Toole for the shipment of the 700 assault rifles.
O'Toole and Miller each face a term of up to five years in prison, followed by a term of three years of supervised release, the forfeiture of $116,000, and a possible fine. Sentencing has been scheduled for Dec. 14 in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.
One of ICE's highest priorities is to prevent terrorist groups and hostile nations from illegally obtaining U.S. military products and sensitive technology, including weapons of mass destruction (WMD) components. ICE's Counter Proliferations Investigations (CPI) Unit is responsible for overseeing a broad range of investigative activities related to such violations, including the enforcement of U.S. laws involving the export of military items and controlled dual-use goods, and sanctioned or embargoed countries. CPI priority programs address trafficking in WMD materials, sensitive dual-use commodities, and technologies sought by proliferant countries and terrorist groups such as Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) materials.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Walleisa.