U.S. charges three businessmen for trying to smuggle arms, ammunition into Nigeria
Allegedly Exported Arms and Ammunition Without Obtaining Export Licenses in Violation of the Arms Export Control Act and the Export Reform Control Act
Baltimore, Maryland – A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging three Maryland men for the federal charges of conspiracy, violation of the Arms Export Control Act and the Export Reform Control Act, related to the export of firearms and ammunition from the United States to Nigeria. Charged in the indictment, which was returned late yesterday, are:
Wilson Nuyila Tita, age 45, of Owings Mills, Maryland;
Eric Fru Nji, age 40, of Fort Washington, Maryland; and
Wilson Che Fonguh, age 39, of Bowie, Maryland.
The indictment was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan F. Lenzner; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; and Special Agent in Charge Timothy Jones of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division.
According to the four-count indictment, from at least November 2017 through July 19, 2019, the defendants conspired with each other and with others to export from the United States to Nigeria defense articles and items identified on the United States Munitions List (“USML”) and the Commerce Control List (“CCL”) without first obtaining export licenses.
The defendants also allegedly conspired to conceal from the United States that those items were being shipped from the Port of Baltimore in Maryland to Nigeria and at least one other location in Africa. The defendants and their co-conspirators allegedly contributed funds for the purchase of firearms, ammunition, reloading materials and other equipment for shipping overseas. The indictment alleges that the defendants and their co-conspirators communicated about their efforts and plans to ship weapons and ammunitions using an on-line encrypted messaging application and code words in order to conceal their activities.
As detailed in the indictment, the defendants and other conspirators concealed the firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes, and other items in heavily wrapped packages and duffle bags, and inside sealed compressor units, placing those items into a shipping container destined for Nigeria without obtaining the requisite licenses from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Further, as part of the conspiracy, one of the co-conspirators allegedly caused the submission of electronic export information to the U.S. government for the container which listed materially false information as to the identity of the exporter and the intermediate and ultimate consignee, as well as the ultimate destination of the container’s contents.
Specifically, the indictment alleges that on January 17, 2019, the defendants and their co-conspirators exported, attempted to export, or caused to be exported to Nigeria articles on the USML the export of which was controlled under the Arms Export Control Act, without first having obtained the required license or written approval from the U.S. Department of State, specifically: 38 semi-automatic firearms; over 35,000 rounds of ammunition; and 44 magazines.
On that same day, the defendants allegedly exported to Nigeria one Bushnell Trophy Rifle Optic and one Burris AR Rifle Scope, the export of which were controlled under the Commerce Control List, without first having obtained the required license or written approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Finally, the indictment alleges that the defendants transported 28 firearms with obliterated serial numbers, including 18 rifles.
If convicted, the defendants each face a mandatory sentence of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy; a maximum of 20 years in federal prison each for violating the Arms Export Control Act and for violating the Export Control Reform Act; and a maximum of five years in federal prison for transportation of a firearm with an obliterated serial number. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.
A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. The defendants are each expected to have an initial appearance this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. DiGirolamo beginning at 3:00 p.m.
An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
Seven defendants have been charged in related cases and of those six have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Acting United States Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner commended HSI and the ATF for their work in the investigation. Mr. Lenzner recognized the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement; U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service; Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their contributions to the investigation. Acting U.S. Attorney Lenzner thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, who is prosecuting the federal case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.
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