Former Soldier Pleads Guilty to Participation in International Arms Smuggling Ring

On September 6, 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that Joseph Debose, a resident of North Carolina and a former Staff Sergeant in a U.S. Special Forces National Guard Unit, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York to violating the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). According to court documents, Debose provided multiple shipments of firearms to co-conspirators who then concealed the weapons in packages and transported them to shipping companies to be sent to customers in China. The weapons included numerous semiautomatic handguns, rifles and shotguns. 

Authorities initially learned of the arms smuggling scheme after police in China seized a package containing firearms with defaced serial numbers, which had been shipped from Queens, New York. Upon learning of the seizure of the weapons, U.S. law enforcement officials traveled to China to examine the evidence. The types of weapons seized by the Chinese authorities have been designated on the United States Munitions List (USML), and may not be exported without a license from the U.S. State Department. With the aid of forensic techniques, agents determined that one of the weapons seized in China had originally been purchased in North Carolina. Agents then traced that gun, and others, to Debose. Agents arrested Debose in a sting operation when he arrived at a meeting location with a truckload of guns for the next shipment. Debose was carrying a loaded .45 caliber pistol at the time of his arrest. To date, four individuals have been charged with weapons trafficking and export offenses as a result of this investigation.

When sentenced, Debose faces up to 20 years in prison.