By Ann W. O'Neill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
A broken toilet in a Miami warehouse led to the discovery of enough
guns and ammunition for "a small army," a federal prosecutor said
Tuesday at a hearing for an accused leader of a South Florida ring
that sold military-style weapons to Colombian rebel and paramilitary
So far, six people have been arrested in connection with an alleged
scheme to buy guns and ammunition in South Florida, pack them into
large appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines and ship
them to Venezuela in 40-foot cargo containers. A seventh person who
allegedly sold guns to the ring remains at large.
Federal law enforcement sources said Tuesday that their "big find"
helped break up a major arms supplier to Colombian groups. According
to court documents, plans to illegally ship 1 million rounds of
ammunition in July and August were interrupted.
Profit, not politics, was the primary motivator, the court documents show.
An informant wearing a wire recorded one ringleader bragging that he
had moved $4 million worth of munitions and could make other people
A second was recorded saying that some of the guns went to FARC, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the leftist rebel group that
has been trying to topple the government since 1964, and AUC, the
United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a right-wing paramilitary
umbrella group. The informant described the scope of the operation,
more than 30 cargo containers over the past two years to Caracas and
At the hearing Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Damian
convinced U.S. Magistrate John J. O'Sullivan that Rafael Samper, 40,
of Pembroke Pines, should be held without bond for leasing warehouse
space where the weapons cache was found on June 12.
An arrest affidavit by Ali Berisha, an agent with the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said several boxes of guns
were hidden in a false ceiling at a warehouse on Northwest 70th
Street near the Doral section of Miami. The guns fell through and
broke the toilet, which leaked into other storage units. The
neighboring tenants forced their way in to stop the water, discovered
the weapons and called police.
Samper's attorney, Mario Cano, said his client was in the export
business and didn't know the guns were there.
Federal agents seized nine handguns, 39 rifles with the serial
numbers removed, seven rifles with intact serial numbers and several
large pallets containing more than 200,000 rounds of ammunition from
the storage space rented in Samper's name. At least 10 of the rifles
were automatic, according to the court records.
The find led to other warehouse stashes of guns and ammunition and
set off an investigation involving electronic monitoring and
confidential informants. Finally, agents with Immigration and Customs
Enforcement set up a dummy arms shipment, using an undercover
informant and rented warehouse space.
The phony July 23 shipment was confiscated at the Port of Miami.
Samper and four others were arrested Aug. 4. They were charged in a
criminal complaint with conspiring to violate the federal Arms Export
Control Act by selling military-style weapons in Venezuela without
obtaining a license from the U.S. State Department. Indictments could
Two other men were charged with selling firearms without a license.
Raul DeMolina, 69, was arrested Aug. 6 and is free on $100,000 bail.
Rodney Sharp, described by an informant as the ring's "gunsmith," has
not been arrested.
The informant identified Samper as a shipper, stash house organizer
and money launderer. The others were identified in documents as
weapons buyer Edgar Semprun, 53, of Kendall; funding source Antonio
Tarrab, 31; money launderer Miguel Palacio, 46; and runner Bilmer
Semprun, Palacio and Paz are free on bail. Federal prosecutors plan
to ask O'Sullivan on Thursday to keep Tarrab behind bars.
Tarrab was captured on tape last month discussing the two dummy
ammunition shipments, according to a search warrant affidavit by ATF
agent Joshua Murr.
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Talking with the informant, "Tarrab specifically states that the
shipment of ammunition was bound for the AUC and that the next
shipment is intended for the FARC," the affidavit stated.