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Cedar Rapids man pleads guilty in gun smuggling conspiracy
CEDAR RAPIDS - A 23-year-old Cedar Rapids man pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy charges involving smuggling guns from Iowa to Lebanon.
Adam Al Herz, originally charged with 20 counts, pleaded guilty to firearms conspiracy, conspiracy to commit money laundering and violation of the Arms Export Control Act, in that he did not have a license to export firearms.
U.S. Magistrate Jon Scoles said Al Herz faces up to 45 years in prison, a $1.7 million fine and 13 years of supervised release.
His father, Ali Al Herz, 50, and his aunt, Sarah Zeaiter, 24, both of Cedar Rapids, will plead in the gun smuggling conspiracy on Friday.
The other family member, his uncle, Bassem Al Herz, 30, may plead next week.
Al Herz and the others were taken into custody last May after authorities raided Midamar Corp. to find firearms and ammunition concealed among clothing drive items that Midamar was sending to Syria and Lebanon.
Midamar owners and employees were not involved with this crime, officials have said.
According to a criminal complaint, the four family members legally obtained weapons and ammunition from dealers in Eastern Iowa, purchasing 113 firearms over 17 months but illegally concealed them within Bobcat construction equipment in the shipping containers.
Authorities seized one shipment bound for Beirut in Norfolk, Va., in March, according to the complaint. The shipment contained 53 firearms, parts, and more than 6,800 rounds of ammunition hidden in skid loaders. Many of the weapons had been placed in bags similar to the ones used at Pizza Daddy, which was owned by Ali Herz's brother. The restaurant was raided in May.
Another intercepted container contained 99 guns, more than 9,500 rounds of ammunition and gun parts and accessories, records show.
Adam Al Herz admitted Thursday to conspiring from early 2013 to May 2015 to deal firearms without a license, to shipping guns and ammunition to Lebanon without written notice of what the shipment contained and making false statements to firearms dealers. He also admitted that he agreed to commit money laundering as part of the scheme, with money going from the United States to a foreign country and money coming from a foreign country into the United States.
For the arms export charge, Al Herz admitted he or the others didn't have a license or authorization to export firearms.
He also admitted he voluntarily joined in the plan and knew they were violating laws.
As part of the plea, Al Herz will forfeit the guns, ammunition and other items associated with the conspiracy.
The plea agreement for Al Herz is sealed, and the other family members' plea agreements hadn't been filed Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Murphy wouldn't comment after the hearing. The question of where or to whom the firearms were being sent hasn't been answered by authorities. During a detention hearing in May, Murphy said the family was selling the guns to a 'war-torn” country out of greed because the violence in the Middle East has driven up prices for weapons.
Zeaiter was the bookkeeper for the group, according to evidence at that hearing. A ledger showed the family purchased 70 guns for about $40,000 and could sell them in Lebanon for $415,000 to $465,000.
Related podcast: ‘On The Record' talks gun smuggling case