LOS ANGELES – A US federal jury on Monday convicted three Filipinos of smuggling high-powered military and assault weapons including rocket launchers, machine guns, and other deadly explosives from the Philippines into the United States.
A federal jury in the US District Court found the three Philippine nationals: Sergio Syjuco, 26; Cesar Ubaldo, 27; and Arjyl Revereza, 26, guilty of conspiring to illegally import the weapons into the United States, and aiding and abetting the importation of those weapons, according to a statement by the US Department of Justice.
The FBI arrested the defendants in 2011 and they were indicted on January 12, 2012. The three face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison when they are sentenced in June.
Defense attorneys had asked the judge to dismiss the case, claiming US law enforcement agents entrapped their clients.
The four-week trial was not only significant because of the high powered military arsenal these men smuggled into the country, but it also took a national turn when it exposed how US law enforcement agents met with the defendants, using some of the infamous seedy locations in the Philippines including Air Force One and Area 51 (well-known brothels) as backdrops, in order to construct a deal.
According to evidence presented at trial, a Filipino-American FBI agent came to the Philippines posing as a Mexican mafia member as part of a weapons-trafficking investigation.
Posing as a buyer, the undercover agent was interested in purchasing high-grade military weapons to bring into the US.
In November 2010, the undercover agent met with Ubaldo, who then introduced the agent to his suppliers of high-powered firearms, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Ubaldo subsequently introduced the undercover agent to Syjuco, who supplied the weapons. The men then met with Revereza, who was a police officer in the Philippines Bureau of Customs.
Revereza facilitated the movement of the illegal weapons through Philippines customs and eventually into the US, the DOJ statement adds.
The military weapons included a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a mortar launcher, an M203 single-shot grenade launcher and 12 Bushmaster machine guns, as well as explosives including mortars and grenades, according to the statement.
The FBI seized the weapons when it arrived in Long Beach on June 7, 2011.
During the trial, the three defendants claimed that the FBI agent lured and pressured them into making a deal. In their testimony, the three defendants said they did not know what the guns were going to be used for.
Prosecutors presented evidence in the form of emails that showed the defendants knew they were illegally shipping the weapons into the US.
Defense attorneys had feverishly asked the judge to dismiss the case arguing the undercover FBI agent engaged in “outrageous government misconduct” and entrapped their client.
Federal Deputy Public Investigator Richard Goff traveled to Manila and found: “On several occasions, the undercover agent invited [the defendants] to …brothels in and around Manila in order to reward them for their efforts and encourage them to continue looking for weapons. [The undercover agent] ordered prostitutes, and paid for himself and others to have sex with the prostitutes.”
Court documents show the place the deals were being conducted in was at brothel houses Air Force One and Area 51, which was later raided by the Philippine government where they found underage prostitutes.
The FBI agent had sought $15,000 in reimbursement related to the investigation.
The three men are scheduled to be sentenced on June 9, 2013. Each defendant faces a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to import weapons into the US, as well as 20 years in prison and a $1-million dollar fine for causing the importation of all of the weapons, excluding the 12 fully automatic Bushmaster firearms.
In addition, defendants Syjuco and Revereza face a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million dollar fine for causing the importation of all of the weapons in this case, and five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for causing the importation of the 12 fully automatic Bushmaster firearms in this case.