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United States v. Al-Balawi

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

April 18, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ABDULAZIZ AL-BALAWI

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE

         Defendant Abdulaziz Al-Balawi pled guilty to smuggling goods from the United States and aiding and abetting, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 554(a) and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The probation officer drafted a Final Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) in preparation for sentencing. This Opinion and Order resolves the Defendant's objections to the PSR.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 10, 2017, investigators from the Indianapolis Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) conducted an interview with a witness on a separate investigation. The witness showed investigators a phone screenshot of an eBay transaction involving two .308 caliber rifle barrels. JTTF determined that the eBay username the witness provided was registered to Abdulaziz Alharbi, and that the shipping information included the Defendant's name and his home address in Fort Wayne, Indiana. On March 27, 2017, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received corroborating information that Alharbi was coordinating the purchase and export of firearm barrels, which were concealed inside appliances, from the United States to Saudi Arabia. HSI contacted eBay and PayPal, and confirmed that the Defendant's address was listed as the shipping address.

         On April 14, 2016, the Fort Wayne Police Department (FWPD) received information suggesting that the Defendant had received parcels containing cylinders similar in size to rifle barrels and that he repackaged the cylinders by zip tying them, wrapping them in paper, and placing them inside the small appliances.

         On April 17, 2017, HSI intercepted a package on its way to an individual in Saudi Arabia. HSI removed five .223 caliber rifle barrels from the package. HSI also learned that the same delivery service had three additional shipments linked to the same individual in Saudi Arabia. All three packages contained kitchen range hoods with rifle barrels secreted within the hoods. The customs declaration forms did not identify the barrels but listed only the kitchen products. One of the packages was sent by the Defendant from his home address.

         On May 10, 2017, the Magistrate Judge authorized a search warrant for the Defendant's residence. HSI, JTTF, and the FWPD executed the warrant and recovered receipts, packing materials, and travel documents. They located the Defendant in another area of the same building complex and he agreed to speak with investigators.

         The Defendant admitted that he shipped approximately 20 rifle barrels to Saudi Arabia on four or five separate occasions. He further admitted that his brother, Mohammed Salem Al-Balawi, who lives in Saudi Arabia, would order the barrels and appliances and have them shipped to the Defendant's home. The Defendant would then take the barrels and conceal them into appliances, and he admitted that he concealed the barrels inside of the appliances in order to avoid discovery by customs officials. Another individual known to the Defendant as “AboReem” provided the Defendant with directions on how to use freight forwarders to ship the barrels. The Defendant, his brother, and AboReem corresponded using encrypted applications, text messages, phone calls, videos, and chats. The Defendant admitted that he and his co-conspirators received $1, 000 per rifle barrel, and overall, they earned $10, 000 to $20, 000. The Defendant maintained that once the barrels reached Saudi Arabia, they were sold to people so they could build weapons to own and hunt with. The Defendant allowed investigators to access his phone and showed them pictures, videos, and messages depicting the Defendant concealing rifle barrels in appliances.

         Investigators determined that rifle barrels are controlled on the United States Munitions List and that a State Department license is required for export or temporary import. Neither the Defendant nor the intended recipient of the package had obtained the required license. Thus, on August 28, 2017, the Defendant was arrested. The Defendant was charged with smuggling goods from the United States and aiding and abetting. On November 30, 2017, the Court accepted the Defendant's plea of guilty to the sole count of the Indictment [ECF No. 1].

         The PSR includes a calculation of the base offense level, explaining that the base offense level for the offense at issue is 26 points. See U.S.S.G. §§ 2M5.2(a)(1). The PSR also includes reductions for acceptance of responsibility, leading to a total offense level of 23.

         The Defendant filed a Sentencing Memorandum [ECF No. 44] in which he argues for a two-level reduction of his base offense level because he maintains he was a minor participant in the offense, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 3B1.2. The Defendant also requests an additional downward reduction because he claims that the matter was not harmful to the United States, pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 2M5.2. Finally, the Defendant requests a variance in consideration of 18 U.S.C. § 3553 sentencing factors.

         The Government disagrees and contends that the PSR should not be altered.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Role ...


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