GREENBELT, Md. - Emenike Charles Nwankwoala, 49, of Laurel, Md., pled guilty today to exporting arms without a license, exporting controlled goods without a license and willful delivery of a firearm to a common carrier without written notice, in connection with a scheme to export firearms and ammunition to Nigeria.
The guilty plea was announced by U. S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Special Agent in Charge Theresa R. Stoop of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Baltimore Field Division; Commissioner Alan Bersin of U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and Special Agent in Charge Rick Shimon of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Washington Office of Export Enforcement.
"Emenike Charles Nwankwoala illegally shipped guns and ammunition to Nigeria for a decade, concealing the weapons in shipping containers and lying about the contents and destination," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
"By stopping the illegal export of weapons from the United States, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) is keeping weapons from falling into the hands of criminals," said William Winter, Special Agent in Charge for ICE in Baltimore. "ICE is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to identify, investigate, and prosecute individuals or companies who engage in illegal export schemes."
"We are pleased to have worked with our law enforcement partners to stem the illegal flow of firearms," says ATF Special Agent in Charge Theresa R. Stoop. "Firearms trafficking remains a serious crime, whether guns are moved from state to state, or across international lines. This investigation is proof that combined efforts impact firearms-related crime, no matter how far-reaching the crimes go."
"This case highlights the tenacious, coordinated effort of federal law enforcement to intercept this cache of weapons and ultimately gain a conviction in this case," said Rick Shimon, special agent in charge of U.S. Department of Commerce's Washington Office of Export Enforcement. "This is an especially egregious crime given that a criminal justice official entrusted with upholding the law smuggled weapons out of the country."
According to Nwankwoala's plea agreement, he was employed by the State of Maryland as a probation officer. Investigation showed that during a six-month period beginning in December 2008, Nwankwoala purchased at least 37 Maverick Model 88 shotguns from a federal firearms licensee located in Kensington, Md. On April 21, 2009, Nwankwoala ordered an additional 25 shotguns over the internet from Impact Guns in Ogden, Utah, a federal firearms licensee. Nwankwoala stated that he was purchasing these shotguns for hunting in Nigeria. The licensee asked Nwankwoala if he had an export license, and Nwankwoala falsely indicated that he did. Nwankwoala never obtained guns through this gun store.
On May 13, 2009, Nwankwoala told an undercover agent from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that for approximately ten years he has purchased shotguns and shipped them to Nigeria in shipping containers with vehicles and hospital beds. Nwankwoala further stated that he made a large profit from these arms shipments and that he knew that he needed a license to engage in this activity but had not obtained one because he could not identify the end user as required by the U. S. Department of Commerce.
In July or August 2009, Nwankwoala prepared a shipping container with 22 Maverick 88 shotguns, two Mossberg 500A shotguns, two Smith & Wesson M&P .45 caliber pistols, two Bersa Thunder .40 caliber pistols, one Bersa Thunder 9 mm pistol, one Ruger SR 9 mm pistol, 850 rounds of 9mm ammunition, 150 rounds of 40mm ammunition, 180 rounds of 45mm ammunition, and 310 12 gauge shotgun rounds, secreted in suitcases, as well as a 2008 Toyota Camry, registered to Nwankwoala. Nwankwoala completed the Shipper's Export Declaration ("SED") for this container which listed the address of the exporter's principal party in interest as Nwankwoala's home address; but listed as the principal party an individual other than himself; and indicated that the container's contents were "used household goods and personal effects" and "used auto." The SED did not state that firearms or ammunition were or would be in the container. Nwankwoala, using a freight forwarding agent located in Baltimore had the container delivered to a ship in Port Elizabeth, in Newark, N.J., for shipment to Nigeria. The package was to be shipped to a person who was not licensed as a firearms dealer, manufacturer or importer.
On Aug. 21, 2009, the ship left from Port Elizabeth carrying the container prepared by Nwankwoala. The container arrived in Nigeria on Sept. 15, 2009, but was not unloaded based upon a request from law enforcement to have the container returned for inspection. On Oct. 6, 2009, the container was inspected in Algeciras, Spain, by agents from Spanish Customs, U. S. Customs and Border Protection and ICE, and the firearms, ammunition and automobile were recovered. A review of the serial numbers of the weapons seized revealed that five of the pistols and twelve of the Maverick 88 shotguns were purchased by Nwankwoala.
Eight other shipments have been made to Nigeria based upon SEDs listing Nwankwoala's home address, from August 2006 through August 2009. The shipments are described as containing used vehicles and personal household goods.
The two Smith & Wesson M&P .45 caliber pistols, two Bersa Thunder .40 caliber pistols, one Bersa Thunder 9 mm pistol, and one Ruger SR 9 mm pistol, as well as all the ammunition found on the container are controlled under the U. S. munitions list and require a license for export. The Maverick 88 and Mossberg 500A shotguns are controlled under the commerce control list for export to Nigeria and also require a license for export.
In February 2008, Nwankwoala applied for and was granted a license from the Department of Commerce to export one Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun to Nigeria for personal use. In February 2009, Nwankwoala applied for an export license from the Department of Commerce to export to Nigeria 45 Mossberg 500 and Maverick 88 shotguns. On this application, Nwankwoala stated that these weapons were to be used in the operation of a newly-opened range in Nigeria. When Nwankwoala was unable to provide further documentation or evidence of this newly-opened range, the Department of Commerce denied the license. Nwankwoala did not possess the necessary licenses or authorizations from the U. S. Department of State or the Department of Commerce to export the above-listed firearms and ammunition to Nigeria, nor does he possess a federal firearms license to engage in the business of dealing in firearms.
Nwankwoala faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for exporting arms without a license; 20 years in prison for exporting controlled goods without a license; and five years in prison for willful delivery of a firearm to a common carrier without written notice. U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte has scheduled sentencing for July 21, 2010, at 9:30 a.m.
U. S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended Assistant U. S. Attorneys Christen A. Sproule and Barbara Skalla, who is prosecuting the case.