Joseph Debose, 30, – a resident of North Carolina and former Staff Sergeant with a U.S. Special Forces National Guard Unit – faces up to 20 years imprisonment for the illegal export of firearms to China. The government has charged Debose with making multiple shipments of semiautomatic handguns, rifles and shotguns to customers in China. These activities constitute ITAR violations under the Arms Export Control Act.
According to a recent press release from the Department of Justice, Mr. Debose worked with a variety of co-conspirators to procure the firearms, then repackaged and forwarded them to shipping companies for export to a variety of customers in China. Most firearms are controlled under United States Munitions List Category I(a), and the U.S. maintains an active arms embargo against China for all items covered by the USML. (See ITAR §126.1).
“The defendant traded the honor of his position in the National Guard for the money he received for smuggling arms to China. In blatant disregard for everything he was sworn to uphold, the defendant placed numerous firearms into a black market pipeline from the United States to China,” said Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
This case serves as an important reminder that ITAR violations can affect not just companies – but individual people with fines, imprisonment and other penalties. In recent years, the U.S. Government has begun to aggressively impose penalties against both companies and individuals who willfully violate the law.
In short, the concept that “only companies get in trouble for compliance problems” has never been further from the truth. This is one of the reasons why employee training, engagement and ownership are key aspects of any program that’s serious about preventing an ITAR or EAR violation from occurring.
Tom Reynolds is the President of Export Solutions, a consultancy firm which specializes in helping companies with import/export compliance.