U.S. court jails businessman for smuggling military-typed weapons, ammunition into Nigeria
Maryland Resident Sentenced to Over Five Years in Federal Prison for Illegally Transporting Firearms with Obliterated Serial Numbers and Smuggling Firearms to Nigeria
Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett today sentenced Eric Fru Nji, age 42, of Fort Washington, Maryland, to 63 months in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release, for conspiracy, for transporting firearms with obliterated serial numbers, and for smuggling firearms and ammunition from the United States to Nigeria. Judge Bennett also ordered Nji to pay a fine of $25,000. Nji was convicted of those charges on May 6, 2022, along with co-defendants Wilson Nuyila Tita, age 47, of Owings Mills, Maryland and Wilson Che Fonguh, age 41, of Bowie, Maryland, after a two-week trial.
The sentence was announced by Erek L. Barron, United States Attorney for the District of Maryland; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; and Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division.
According to the evidence presented at trial, from at least November 2017 through July 19, 2019, Nji and his co-defendants conspired with each other and with others to export firearms, ammunition and other military-typed items from the United States to Nigeria. Specifically, the evidence at trial established that Nji and his co-conspirators secreted 38 firearms, 28 of which had the obliterated serial numbers in a shipping container that they sent out of the Port of Baltimore in January of 2019. The guns included sniper rifles, SKS assault rifles (some with bayonets), other rifles and several handguns. There were 44 high-capacity magazines, two rifle scopes and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition. As detailed in trial testimony, Nji and his co-conspirators contributed funds for the purchase of firearms, ammunition, reloading materials and other equipment for shipping overseas to separatists fighting against the Government of Cameroon. The evidence proved that Nji and his co-conspirators concealed the firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes, and other items in duffle bags and heavily wrapped packages inside sealed compressor units, placing those items into a shipping container destined for Nigeria. Nji and his co-conspirators communicated about their efforts and plans to ship weapons and ammunitions using an on-line encrypted messaging application and code words in order to conceal their activities.
Fonguh, Tita and seven defendants charged in related cases are awaiting sentencing.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended HSI and the ATF for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron recognized the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement; U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service; Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their contributions to the investigation. U.S. Attorney Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, who is prosecuting the case.
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