Man from South Florida gets 20 years for shipping weapons to Colombian terrorist group
A South Florida man was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in prison for shipping weapons inside air compressors to a U.S.-designated terrorist group in Colombia.
Francisco Joseph Arcila Ramirez, a legal permanent resident in the United States, pleaded guilty in October to providing “material support to a foreign terrorist organization,” the ELN, a leftist group that was responsible for the deadly bombing of a Bogotá police academy in January of last year. The group, also known as the National Liberation Army, did not use any weapons from Arcila’s shipment in that attack, however.
Born in Colombia, Arcila, 36, was given the maximum prison term by U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez on the sole terrorism-support charge. Under a plea agreement, related conspiracy and weapons charges were dropped that could have sent him to prison for a longer period had he been convicted at trial in Miami.
The federal case charging Arcila of supporting Colombia’s National Liberation Army is uncommon because the ELN has mainly been implicated in U.S. drug-smuggling prosecutions, not pure terrorism cases.
Arcila’s sentence was boosted by a terrorism enhancement proposed by prosecutors Randy Hummel and Michael Sherwin. His defense attorney, Ana Davide, tried to limit Arcila’s prison time, to no avail.
According to court records, Arcila arranged an August 2018 shipment of firearms and assault-rifle magazines sold for roughly $26,000 to an ELN weapons broker. That shipment, however, captured only a portion of Arcila’s South Florida weapons shipments to the U.S.-designated terrorist organization, Hummel said.
An initial indictment had charged Arcila and two other South Florida men with conspiring to buy pistols, semiautomatic rifles and other arms from licensed weapons dealers and secretly shipping them in air compressors to Colombia over several months. Arcila had bought the compressors at a Home Depot store in Little Havana, according to surveillance video footage. He then shipped them to his brother in Colombia, authorities said.
Additional charges accused Arcila of providing material support to the ELN. As part of his plea agreement, Arcila is cooperating with prosecutors and federal agents, including the FBI, who are working with their Colombian counterparts.
Colombian authorities have accused the ELN, which was founded in 1964, of carrying out the January 2019 truck bombing of a national police academy in Bogotá that killed 21 people and wounded more than 70 others. The ELN has been expanding its profile as a criminal organization, funded largely by the drug trade, gold smuggling and kidnapping ransoms..
There is no indication that the weapons illegally shipped from South Florida to Colombia played a part in the deadly Bogotá bombing, authorities said. However, Colombian investigators are conducting a separate probe of weapons suppliers to the ELN, including Arcila’s brother and several others.
In Colombia, the national police arrested Arcila’s brother, Alvaro Jay Arcila, and his wife, Ingrid Maldonado Perez, in Barranquilla. In a search of the couple’s home in October 2018, police found assorted firearms parts and accessories, along with four Husky air compressors. One of the compressors had a Home Depot identifier tag with a store inventory number, which was traced by federal agents to the Home Depot store on Southwest Eighth Street in Little Havana.
Details of the South Florida firearms-smuggling case were disclosed in two related criminal complaints filed in January of last year. They said two of the defendants — Arcila and Gregory Fernando Ortega, who lived in Broward County — used a straw buyer to purchase dozens of firearms from Miami-area gun stores such as Lou’s Police Supply and then shipped them hidden inside Husky air compressors to Arcila’s brother in Colombia. Among the purchases: Glock, Draco and Zastava pistols, the complaints said.
In mid-March, Ortega pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally deal firearms and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
A year ago, the straw buyer, James Smith, began cooperating with agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and recorded conversations about the weapon transactions and shipments to Colombia, according to the complaints.
Smith pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy firearms charge in April and was sentenced to two years.
Source: Miami Herald