LOS ANGELES - A federal grand jury has indicted the former owner of a now defunct Los Angeles-area gun store and two other men for violating international arms trafficking and export control laws, alleging they exported sophisticated gun sights and equipment used to manufacture assault rifles to the Philippines without the required licenses.
Romulo Reclusado, 59, one-time owner of RNJ Guns & Ammo in Carson, Calif., is named in the four-count indictment, along with two other Carson men, Tirso A. Aguayo, 56, and Mike Cabatingan, 56. Cabatingan worked at a Carson freight forwarding company, Fastpak Cargo.
The men are accused of conspiring to illegally ship defense articles and other controlled items to the Philippines in violation of the Arms Export Control Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The items included molds or "forgings" used to make components for AR-15 assault rifles and holographic rifle sights touted by their Michigan-based manufacturer as "perfect for tactical environments." The AR-15 forgings are classified as "defense articles" on the United States Munitions List, and written permission must be obtained from the U.S. Department of State in order to legally export them. The holographic sites are export-controlled items, and a license must be obtained from the U.S. Department of Commerce to legally export them to the Philippines.
The charges are the result of a long-term investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Commerce and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).
"The export of these defense articles to the Philippines or anywhere else in the world is tightly regulated for good reason. Arms traffickers have shown that they are willing to provide this equipment to anybody who is willing to pay -- from terrorists to criminal organizations," said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary John Morton, who oversees ICE. "One of ICE's top enforcement priorities is preventing military equipment and sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its allies."
Aguayo and Cabatingan were taken into custody by federal agents Thursday morning at their residences in Carson, and they are expected to make their initial court appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Reclusado, whom authorities believe fled to the Philippines several years ago, remains at large.
According to the indictment handed down earlier this week, from March through May of 2005, the defendants conspired to purchase and export to the Philippines, in three separate shipments, a total of 250 AR-15 receiver forgings and 11 sophisticated rifle sights. Two of the shipments were intercepted by Philippine customs officials.
"At the Office of Export Enforcement, we strive to keep the most sensitive goods out of the most dangerous hands," said Anthony Levey, special agent in charge of the Department's Los Angeles Field Office. "This case in an example of the important work we do in conjunction with our law enforcement partners."
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court.
If convicted of the charges contained in the indictment, Reclusado and Cabatingan would face maximum statutory sentences of 45 years in federal prison, and Aguayo would face a maximum possible penalty of 25 years in prison.
In fiscal year 2009, ICE counter-proliferation investigations resulted in more than 700 arrests, approximately 300 indictments which resulted in more than 250 convictions for export-related criminal violations. Thus far in fiscal year 2010, ICE has made 96 arrests and generated 52 indictments which resulted in 40 convictions for export-related criminal violations. These efforts significantly contribute to preventing sensitive U.S. technologies as well as weapons from reaching the hands of terrorists, hostile countries and violent criminal organizations.