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L.A. Customs officer, brothers charged in gun-smuggling scheme

September 06, 2013|By Kate Mather

A Los Angeles-based U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer and his two brothers have been charged in an international weapons-smuggling scheme, federal prosecutors announced Friday.

Authorities allege Wilfredo Maralit, 48, and his brothers -- Rex Maralit, 44, a New York City police officer, and Ariel Maralit, 43, who lives in the Philippines -- illegally shipped high-powered, military-grade assault and sniper rifles, pistols and other firearm components from the U.S. to the Philippines.

The weapons were then sold to overseas buyers, prosecutors said.

The complaint alleges that between January 2009 and March of this year, Ariel Maralit emailed his brothers requests for specific firearms from potential buyers, which the U.S.-based brothers would then track down using online dealers.

Rex and Wilfredo Maralit -- who was assigned to Los Angeles International Airport -- allegedly sent the weapons or the components overseas, sometimes via John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

The men disguised the guns and parts using fake packaging, the complaint alleged, including some labeled "aluminum side door railing" and "industrial sliding door track."

None of the brothers had proper licenses needed to import, manufacture or deal firearms, but officials allege Rex and Wilfredo Maralit used their law enforcement credentials to get discounts on the guns.

The federal complaint noted a June 2012 email in which Rex Maralit -- the NYPD officer assigned to the department's Manhattan headquarters -- asked a licensed firearms dealer if a deal was available on a military-style rifle.

In the message, Maralit noted he was "LEO" (law enforcement officer) and "PO" (police officer).

"One other question," Rex Maralit allegedly wrote. "do you give discounts to LEO, I am an active PO with the NYPD, please advise."

The brothers "used their knowledge of the law to circumvent it, and sent dangerous weapons overseas without regard for the ultimate destination or targets," U.S. Atty. Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement.

"As alleged, rather than upholding and enforcing the law as they had sworn to do, these defendants made international gunrunning a family business," she said.

Investigators also found photos showing Ariel Maralit, the brother in the Philippines, "holding firearms, including assault rifles," the federal complaint stated.

The brothers have been charged with conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act by exporting weapons without a U.S. State Department license, and with conspiring to engage in unlicensed firearms dealing.

Both Rex and Wilfredo Maralit were scheduled to appear in federal courtrooms Friday, officials said. Wilfredo Maralit would likely be moved from Los Angeles to New York to face charges in federal court there.

Ariel Maralit remained at large.

The brothers face up to five years in prison for each charge, along with a fine of up to $250,000, prosecutors said.


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