One defendant was arraigned today, and another appeared in an ongoing removal hearing, in connection with their roles in a multi-national firearms trafficking investigation being conducted in the Eastern District of New York and elsewhere. A criminal complaint was unsealed earlier this week in federal court in Brooklyn charging Joseph Debose, a resident of North Carolina and Staff Sergeant in a U.S. Special Forces National Guard Unit, with illegal gun dealing and aiding others, including Chinese nationals Zhifu Lin and Lilan Li, in the illegal export of firearms to China.1 Debose was arrested May 20, 2012, in a sting operation by federal agents in Smithfield, North Carolina, when he arrived to provide another shipment of firearms for export. At the time of his arrest, Debose was carrying a loaded .45 caliber pistol. In addition, agents seized twelve other firearms from Debose, which were intended for export.

Lin was arraigned this morning before United States Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy, at the U.S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York, on an indictment previously returned by a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York, and ordered detained. Li was previously arraigned on that indictment on May 2, 2012, and entered a plea of not guilty. Also this morning, at a proceeding in federal court in Raleigh, North Carolina, the government sought to remove Debose to the Eastern District of New York for prosecution on a related complaint. The removal hearing was continued until May 30, 2012. Debose remains in custody pending the outcome of that proceeding.

The charges were announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Joseph Anarumo, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), New York Field Division, Victor W. Lessoff, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), New York Field Office, and Sidney Simon, Special Agent-in-Charge, Department of Commerce (DOC), Office of Export Enforcement, New York Field Office.

According to the charging documents and facts presented by the government at Lin’s arraignment, between December 2010 and April 2012, Debose provided multiple shipments of firearms to associates who then secreted the weapons in packages and transported them to shipping companies to be sent to customers in China. The smuggling scheme came to light after authorities in China seized a package containing firearms with defaced serial numbers that had been shipped from Queens, New York. Thereafter, U.S. law enforcement agents traveled to China and examined the firearms, which were determined to be listed on the United States Munitions List and barred from export without a license issued by the U.S. State Department. Utilizing forensic techniques, agents learned that one of the seized weapons had originally been purchased in North Carolina. Among the weapons seized in China were those Debose provided to his associates for export. Last month, an indictment was unsealed in Brooklyn federal court charging Lin and Li with illegally exporting firearms, including the seized firearms mentioned above, from Queens to China without obtaining the required license from the State Department in violation of U.S. Arms Export Control Act. Lin was also charged with operating an illegal gun-dealing business and transporting firearms with obliterated serial numbers.

“The defendants in North Carolina and New York allegedly ran a pipeline of illegal firearms from the United States to China. We will utilize all available resources to stop the export of such weapons,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “The arrest of Debose marks the latest in a series of charges brought by this office against international gun traffickers.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the task force of federal agencies that worked together to investigate the case and added that the government’s investigation is continuing.

“The defendants allegedly altered the serial numbers on various weapons to disguise their origin in order to export them to China – an indication these guns were going to fall into the wrong hands,” said HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Hayes. “HSI maintains a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the illegal export of weapons on the United States Munitions List.”

ATF Special Agent-in-Charge Anarumo stated, “The unlawful purchasing and trafficking in firearms is a serious crime that feeds and amplifies the violence that is plaguing so many communities in this nation and around the world. This investigation is a testament to the collective resolve of federal law enforcement to stem the flow of illegal firearms both within and outside of our nation’s borders.”

IRS Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Lessoff stated, “The potential harm that can result from the movement of illegal firearms through the New York City-metropolitan area cannot be overstated. IRS-Criminal Investigation is enthusiastic about lending its financial investigative expertise to this ongoing investigation.”

DOC Special Agent-in-Charge Simon stated, “Special Agents from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security Office of Export Enforcement are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to stem the flow of firearms that are illegally smuggled out of the country. We will continue to pursue arrests and convictions that ultimately shut-down these illicit schemes.”

The defendants each face up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth DuCharme, with assistance from Trial Attorney David Recker of the Department of Justice Counter Espionage Section. Assistance also was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Northern District of West Virginia and the Eastern District of North Carolina.

The Defendants:

Age: 29

Age: 25

Age: 23


1 The charges announced today are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.