CAMDEN, N.J. — Four members of an international arms trafficking organization were sentenced to prison Tuesday for conspiring to smuggle substantial quantities of firearms and ammunition from the United States to Greece. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Dennis Meleshes, 46, and Vladimir Polivka, 58, both of Las Vegas, and Nick Somos, 71, of Queens, N.Y., previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas to conspiracy to smuggle weapons. Vasileios Angelakis, 36, also of Queens, previously pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony. Meleshes was sentenced to serve six months in prison and six months of home confinement. Polivka, Somos and Angelakis were sentenced to 24, 18 and 15 months in prison, respectively.
According to court documents, in December 2011, Meleshes, Polivka and Somos orchestrated a plan to acquire a large quantity of weapons and ammunition in the United States that they intended to ship to Greece for sale on the black market. Meleshes and Polivka purchased a number of weapons – some of the money for which was provided by Angelakis – at various locations in Nevada and surrounding areas.
Meleshes and Polivka ultimately created a weapons cache that included 65 revolvers and semi-automatic pistols, an UZI machine gun, one AK-47 assault rifle and 10,540 assorted rounds of ammunition. Meleshes and Polivka packed the weapons in two vehicles – an Audi A6 and a Chevrolet Caprice – one of which contained an improvised lock system, or "trap," which was intended to prevent law enforcement from finding the cache. Polivka and another individual then drove the vehicles to a freight forwarding service in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Somos had arranged for the cars to be loaded onto cargo containers and placed on a commercial shipping line bound for Greece via Italy. Meleshes and Angelakis traveled to Italy in order to personally receive the shipment.
Customs officials issued a recall on the shipment and the cargo container was returned to the Port of New York/Newark. The weapons cache was seized April 3, 2012. Law enforcement confirmed it contained items listed as U.S. Munitions List defense articles, which require a license to be exported out of the United States. No such license accompanied any of the firearms recovered and a search of law enforcement databases revealed that no licenses had been obtained by any of the defendants for the items. In fact, the export documents filed in connection with the shipment did not list any of the weapons or ammunition.
In all, the seized weapons and ammunition were worth more than $250,000 on the secondary market in Greece.
In addition to the prison terms, Judge Irenas sentenced Meleshes, Polivka and Somos to serve three years of supervised release and Angelakis to serve a year of supervised release.
HSI was assisted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and the Hellenic National Police, as well as officers from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.