Leader in Lebanon gun smuggling gets 27 years in federal prison

Ali Al Herz says he was 'good Samaritan or Robin Hood'

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Ali Al Herz admitted to a federal judge Monday that smuggling guns to Lebanon was wrong and against the law, but he thought he was doing “right” to sell guns to people threatened by “terrorists ... and ISIS.”

He thought he was being a “good Samaritan or Robin Hood.”

Al Herz, 51, of Cedar Rapids, identified as a leader of the gun conspiracy, claimed he didn’t keep the money from the gun sales. Instead, he said, he improved roads in Lebanon and did other things to help people.

U.S. District Chief Judge Linda Reade sentenced Al Herz to 27 years in prison, which is three years less than the low end of the sentencing guidelines. He also must serve three years of supervised release after prison and pay a $150,000 fine.

Al Herz pleaded guilty in March to being a prohibited person in possession of firearms, firearms conspiracy, conspiracy to commit money laundering and violation of the Arms Export Control Act, meaning he didn’t have a license to export firearms. His sentencing started earlier in October but had to be continued because it was a lengthy hearing.

Three Al Herz family members also have been convicted for their roles in smuggling weapons in 2014 and 2015.

His son, Adam Al Herz, 23, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His brother, Bassem Herz, 31, will be sentenced Nov. 7. And Bassem Herz’s wife, Sarah Zeaiter, 24, has been sentenced to seven years.

The four family members legally obtained weapons and ammunition from dealers in Eastern Iowa, buying an estimated 252 firearms in 17 months, according to previous hearings and criminal complaints. They concealed them within Bobcat construction equipment in shipping containers.

During sentencing, Reade found Al Herz was a leader and organizer of the criminal activity. She also said he made false statements every time he bought a gun and on his permit to carry form because he denied being convicted of domestic violence and about being a marijuana user.

Al Herz also failed to report any income made from selling the firearms, Reade added.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy argued for prison time above the minimum guideline based on the number and types of firearms involved.

Special Agent Timothy Hunt with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified at the previous hearing that Al Herz bought 21 of the 32 military-style assault rifles in the May 2015 shipments. Some of the guns resemble AR-15 rifles. Al Herz also asked one of the dealers if he could get a fully automatic firearm, which are not legal unless someone has a special, rare license, Hunt noted.

Special Agent Christopher Cantrell of the Department of Homeland Security, also testifying at the previous hearing, said Al Herz was responsible for negotiating the sale of the firearms in Lebanon. He wanted to sell them to his cousin, a customs dealer in the region, but Bassem Herz wanted to sell the guns to arms dealers with connections to Hezbollah because they could make more money. The family had a falling out over the issue and split up their transactions at one point.

Murphy, in arguing for more prison time, called Al Herz’s comments — about him being a Robin Hood trying to protect people — “preposterous.” The guns were sold in Lebanon because that’s where the family would make the most profit, he said.

Al Herz contested paying a fine, saying he didn’t have the money. But prosecutors submitted real estate records, showing Al Herz owns property in south Lebanon worth $5.8 million.

Ann Laverty, Al Herz’s lawyer, argued the property was owned by someone else and that he had sold some of the lots for less than appraised value. Laverty also said the records were in Arabic and hadn’t been verified.

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