CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Four east central Iowa residents were charged in federal court Tuesday for their alleged roles in a conspiracy to illegally ship weapons and ammunition to Beirut, Lebanon.
These indictments resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in cooperation with the FBI; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The following agencies provided extensive assistance with executing the May 12 search and arrest warrants: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Marshals Service, the Iowa Bureau of Investigation and Identity Protection, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Iowa State Patrol; the sheriff’s offices of Linn, Fayette and Iowa counties; the Iowa police departments of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, Marion and Vinton; and the Johnson County (Iowa) Drug Task Force.
Ali Afif Al Herz, 50, Bassem Herz, 30, Sarah Zeaiter, 24, and Adam Ben Ali Al Herz, 22, all related to each other, and all from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have each been charged with conspiracy to illegally ship a container or package containing numerous firearms and ammunition to the Middle East without notice to the shipper.
An affidavit, unsealed Tuesday, alleges that between about August 2014 and May 2015, three containers originating from Cedar Rapids were loaded with items including Bobcat skid loaders, clothing, and various other items with an intended destination of Beirut, Lebanon. The first container was shipped to Lebanon before the investigation was started, and was not interdicted.
Additionally the affidavit alleges that on March 26, 2015, a second container sent by the defendants, and bound for the Middle East, was stopped in Norfolk, Virginia, prior to loading aboard a ship. This container was found to contain 53 firearms and more than 6,800 rounds of ammunition hidden in three Bobcat skid loaders inside the container.
Finally, court records allege the defendants loaded and shipped a third container, also bound for Lebanon, from a Cedar Rapids business. This container was also searched and found to contain an additional 99 firearms and more than 9,500 rounds of ammunition. The firearms and ammunition in this final container were again secreted within two Bobcat skid loaders and placed inside the container.
Court documents also allege that of 152 firearms seized from the two shipping containers, about 66 of the firearms were purchased by the four defendants in Cedar Rapids and surrounding areas.
If convicted on all charges, each individual faces a possible maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, a $100 in special assessment, and three years of supervised release following any imprisonment imposed.
Following their appearance in court, all four and were ordered held without bond. Ali Afif Al Herz must make an appearance as part of a detention hearing May 15. His brother Bassem Herz is being held in custody by the U.S. Marshals pending further proceedings. Bassem’s wife, Sarah Zeaiter Herz, will make an appearance for a detention hearing on May 15. Ali’s son, Adam Ben Ali Al Herz, will also appear May 15 for a detention hearing.
As with any criminal case, a charge is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Anyone with information concerning this matter please contact HSI toll-free at 1-866-347-2423. Or you can email your tip to: http://www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-tip-form. All tips will remain confidential.