NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former member of the U.S. National Guard on Thursday pleaded guilty to smuggling shipments of firearms from New York City to China, federal prosecutors said.
Joseph Debose, 30, formerly a staff sergeant with a unit of the U.S. Special Forces National Guard, was arrested in May in a sting operation by federal agents in North Carolina, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Brooklyn. At the time of his arrest, he was carrying a .45 caliber pistol and 12 other firearms he intended to send illegally overseas, prosecutors said.
According to court documents, Debose provided multiple shipments of firearms to co-conspirators who then hid the weapons in packages and transported them to shipping companies to be sent to customers in China.
"In blatant disregard for everything he was sworn to uphold, the defendant placed numerous firearms into a black market pipeline from the United States to China," said Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Debose, a North Carolina resident, faces up to 20 years in prison, prosecutors said. He entered the plea in federal court in Brooklyn. A sentencing date has not been set, and he remains in federal custody.
The scheme came to light when local law enforcement officials in China seized a package containing firearms concealed in speaker casings, court records show. The weapons, whose serial numbers had been defaced, had been sent from Queens, New York, and were later traced back to Debose, according to the complaint.
In June, one of Debose's co-conspirators, Lilan Li, a Chinese national, pleaded guilty to similar charges in the case, U.S. attorney's office spokesman Robert Nardoza said. Li is in custody awaiting sentencing.
Another suspect, Zhifu Lin, also from China, has pleaded not guilty and is in custody awaiting trial, Nardoza said.
(Reporting by Dan Burns; Editing by Jackie Frank)