Eight Americans Convicted of Smuggling Arms
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) _ A federal court on Thursday convicted eight American men and an Argentine ship captain of smuggling arms into Brazil and gave them prison sentences of up to five years.
Judge Julieta Lunz said the court suspected the arms were destined for rural areas where ranchers and peasants are engaged in violent battles over land.
Prosecutor Juarez Tavares said the defendants had five days to appeal their sentences. They were being held at federal police headquarters in Rio.
John Dee Early and Eduardo Gilardoni, the Argentine captain of the ship carrying the arms, were sentenced to five years in prison. The other Americans got four years each.
The seven other Americans were identified by police as Edward Robert Foti, Warren Steven Hedrick, Frederick Verdiun, Sheldon Ainsworth, Julio Larrazabal, Steven Villa Sosa and Michael Timothy Carmody.
The U.S. Consulate said it could not divulge the Americans’ hometowns.
The group was arrested on March 14 In Itaipu, a small port 20 miles east of Rio. Federal police impounded the Nobistor, a Panamanian-registered supply ship, and seized six tons of weapons found on board.
The confiscated weapons included machine guns, shotguns, grenades and ammunition.
According to the U.S. Consulate, the Americans claimed they were legally hired to accompany the shipment from Argentina where the arms were bought to Ghana in West Africa and to train the Ghana military to use the weapons.
Gilardoni claimed that while at sea he discovered he had been deceived by a man purporting to represent the Ghana government, and immediately put into port in Brazil.
Tavares said the judge found in her decision ″it was too much of a coincidence that heavy-caliber weapons would appear in Brazil exactly at the time we are having such heated conflicts over land.″
Violence has increased since the government began an agrarian reform program aimed at giving land to millions of poor peasants. The Roman Catholic Church supports the plan, but landowners oppose it.
Last week, federal police seized hundreds of illegal weapons in a sweep of a northern Brazilian region where land disputes have been most violent.