Blackwater indicted for violating federal firearms laws

McClatchy NewspapersApril 16, 2010 

RALEIGH, N.C. — Five former employees of the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater violated a series of federal firearms laws to give the company a leg up in the military contracting and training business, a federal indictment charged Friday.

Blackwater officials falsified federal paperwork to conceal a gift of firearms to Jordan's King Abdullah II, whom Blackwater was courting as a client, the indictment charges.

Former company president Gary Jackson used the tiny Camden County, N.C., sheriff's office as a front to buy AK-47 automatic rifles that Blackwater wanted for its training facility in Moyock, N.C., and the company illegally possessed short-barreled rifles that Blackwater officials thought were useful for winning security contracts.

The indictment also charges former Blackwater vice-president William W. Mathews Jr.; former general counsel Andrew Howell; former vice-president Ana Bundy; and Ronald Slezak, who handled federal paperwork for firearms.

Mark Corallo, a company spokesman, said the company wouldn't comment on the indictment beyond saying that it cooperated fully with federal investigators.

Patrick Woodward, a lawyer for Slezak, said his client would be vindicated. "Ron is a Patriot — Army Vet and Navy ship builder for 30 years in Norfolk, Va.," he said.

The other defendants and their attorneys couldn't be reached Friday afternoon.

Friday's indictment is the latest bad news for Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe in 2009. The company burst into the spotlight in 2004 when four of its contractors were massacred in Fallujah, Iraq, which triggered two attacks on Fallujah by U.S. Marines.

The indictment highlights how Blackwater marketed its personal protection and military training services to countries worldwide, and investigators examined numerous allegations — not all of which are covered in the indictment — that the company exported firearms and other weapons without a license.

King Abdullah visited Blackwater's headquarters in March 2005 along with his two sons, according to government investigators. To curry favor with the king, Blackwater made a gift of five weapons etched with the Blackwater logo — three Glock pistols, an M4 Bushmaster rifle and a Remington shotgun.

Afterward, Blackwater employees realized that they couldn't account for the weapons, and falsely completed federal forms stating that Jackson and a second person had purchased the weapons, the indictment said.

Jordan is a key U.S. ally, strategically situated between Iraq, Israel and Syria.

Senior Blackwater executives enjoyed a close relationship with King Abdullah and other Jordanian officials, according to U.S. officials who requested anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the issue publicly.

The king once stayed at the Middleburg, Va., farm of Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince, and senior Blackwater executives spent time with the king in Jordan, they said.

In February 2006, the company sought a State Department license to export more than $30,000 worth of weapons, including Bushmaster rifles, to Abdullah's private security detail. The State Department approved that export, but denied the company's bid to sell silencers for the weapons.

The indictment also charges that Blackwater employees made a straw gun purchase that was first reported by The (Raleigh) News & Observer in June 2008.

In 2005, Blackwater bought 17 Romanian-made AK-47s and 17 Bushmasters and gave ownership to the Camden County Sheriff, whose 19-member staff has few crimes to deal with in a county of fewer than 10,000 people. The sheriff's office never used the weapons.

In a June 2008 interview, Jackson was asked the reason for the deal: "Because they needed guns, I imagine," he said.

According to the indictment, Blackwater thought the weapons would increase its ability to win government contracts and used them at its Moyock training facility.

Under federal law, it's illegal for a person to receive or possess an automatic weapon that isn't registered to that person in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.

Friday's charges stem from a wide-ranging federal investigation of Blackwater's weapons dealings that began in February 2006, according to officials and documents. The investigation involved agents from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement bureau; the Commerce Department; the State Department inspector general's office; and other agencies. At times, the team had up to 20 federal agents.

Neff reported from Raleigh and Strobel reported from Washington. McClatchy correspondent Jonathan S. Landay in Washington contributed to this report.

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