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April 6, 2023Baltimore, MD, United StatesFirearms, Ammunition and Explosives

HSI Baltimore investigation leads to 5-year sentence for Maryland man who attempted to smuggle firearms to separatists in Cameroon

BALTIMORE — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) Baltimore Field Division; and the Department of Defense’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic field office resulted in a 63-month federal prison sentence for a Maryland man who attempted to transport and smuggle firearms and munitions to separatists fighting against the government of Cameroon.

Wilson Nuyila Tita, 47, of Owings Mills, Maryland, received the over-five-year sentence followed by two years of supervised release on April 4 at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The sentence follows a two-week trial that wrapped up May 6, 2022, where Tita and co-defendants Eric Fru Nji, 42, of Fort Washington, Maryland, and Wilson Che Fonguh, 41, of Bowie, Maryland, were found guilty of conspiracy for transporting firearms with obliterated serial numbers and for smuggling firearms and ammunition from the United States to Nigeria for the purposes of reaching separatist rebels in Cameroon.

“Mr. Tita and his co-conspirators attempted to smuggle weapons and munitions in order to fuel terrorism and unrest in the Republic of Cameroon,” said HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris. “Fortunately, we will never know just how much damage their shipments would have caused. Among our many mission sets, preventing acts of terrorism in the homeland and abroad remains a top priority for HSI Baltimore. We will continue to work with our partners to investigate and apprehend people committing or supporting acts of violence.”

According to the investigation, from at least November 2017 through July 19, 2019, Tita and his co-conspirators collaborated with each other and with others to export firearms, ammunition and other military-type items from the United States to Nigeria. Specifically, the investigation established that co-conspirators secreted 38 firearms, 28 of which had obliterated serial numbers, in a shipping container that they sent out of the Port of Baltimore in January 2019.

The weapons included sniper rifles, SKS assault rifles — some with bayonets, other rifles and several handguns. There were also 44 high-capacity magazines, two rifle scopes and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition.

The investigation verified that the co-conspirators concealed the firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes and other items in duffel bags and heavily wrapped packages inside sealed compressor units, placing those items into a shipping container destined for Nigeria.

According to trial testimony and investigative evidence, Tita was present for the loading of the container, but that he did not load anything himself because Tita “didn’t like to get his hands dirty.” Instead, Tita gave others instructions as they loaded the container.

Furthermore, the investigation disclosed that Tita and his co-conspirators contributed funds for the purchase of firearms, ammunition, reloading materials and other equipment for shipping overseas to separatists fighting against the government of Cameroon.

Tita and his co-conspirators communicated about their efforts and plans to ship weapons and ammunitions using an online encrypted messaging application and code words to conceal their activities.

Tita’s co-defendant Nji was previously sentenced to 63 months in federal prison, while co-defendant Fonguh and seven other defendants charged in related cases are still awaiting sentencing.

This sentencing resulted from a joint HSI Baltimore, ATF Baltimore, and DCIS Mid-Atlantic investigation with significant assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

HSI encourages members of the public with knowledge of any such smuggling activity to contact HSI by calling the HSI tip line at 866-347-2423. The tip line is manned 24 hours a day.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.