A former Grand Rapids businessman who smuggled handguns to Lebanon hidden among auto parts was sentenced Thursday, Nov. 3 to federal prison and slapped with a $10,000 fine.
Federal prosecutors expressed concern that the handguns were destined for a volatile area of the Middle East, potentially jeopardizing U.S. troops in the region.
Gilbert Oscar Elian, 55, will spend a year and a day in federal prison for conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act.
U.S. District Court Judge Gordon J. Quist ordered that Elian serve three years on supervised release once he gets out of prison. Elian pleaded guilty to the federal offense in March. He faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Elian’s purchase of 93 handguns from 2012-2014 at retail outlets in the Grand Rapids area drew attention from federal authorities, according to a criminal complaint filed last year.
“There is no guarantee that firearms sold within Lebanon will not end up exacerbating regional conflicts in Syria and elsewhere, and negatively impact U.S. troops in the region,’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Clay M. West wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Lebanon borders Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war with hundreds of armed groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, West noted.
Defense attorney Terry Tobias said Elian’s conduct did not threaten American interests overseas.
“None of the firearms were military weapons,’’ Tobias wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “There were no fully automatic weapons, nor were there any rifles and shotguns. All were handguns of a type commonly carried by private citizens in this country for personal defense.’’
Federal agents say Elian bought and transported dozens of handguns, although the indictment references 20 firearms hidden inside engine blocks and transmissions destined for Beirut, Lebanon.
A native of Lebanon and the father of four, Elian is a former member of the Lebanese Christian Forces, a military unit closely allied with the interests of the United States, Tobias wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Elian was wounded in action twice. He came to the U.S. in 1984 and became a naturalized citizen. Elian continues to maintain business interests in Lebanon, but considers himself “first and foremost, an American citizen,’’ Tobias wrote.
“It is difficult to conceive how anyone would believe that a man who had literally shed his blood in support of American interests and foreign policy would ever be inclined to work against those same principles,’’ he wrote.
Media reports “mischaracterized him as a terrorist’’ and compelled the family’s decision to move to northern Virginia, Tobias wrote.
“There was no mention of the more than 30 years he had lived here and no mention of his ownership of several businesses,’’ Tobias wrote. “The news reports failed to mention that he had served with distinction in a military unit which supported the United States Marine Corps.’’