How Not to Smuggle Guns From Texas to Kazakhstan

Trafficking plans go awry at the Fort Worth Gun Show

How Not to Smuggle Guns From Texas to Kazakhstan How Not to Smuggle Guns From Texas to Kazakhstan

Uncategorized October 28, 2014 0

Thinking about becoming an arms traffickers? Here’s a few tips. First tip—don’t. Second, don’t act cagey when asked to undergo federally-mandated background checks while... How Not to Smuggle Guns From Texas to Kazakhstan

Thinking about becoming an arms traffickers? Here’s a few tips.

First tip—don’t.

Second, don’t act cagey when asked to undergo federally-mandated background checks while trying to buy firearms at gun shows. Don’t use fake IDs. Don’t ship guns by FedEx.

It’s also worth repeating—don’t try to traffic weapons from gun shows to Kazakhstan.

Two men allegedly tried to do all of these things on the morning of Oct. 25, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in a federal court this week. Two men—one from Kazakhstan and another from California—screwed up bad during the alleged gun-running operation.

According to the complaint, the plot began when Aleksandr Yezersky and Feder Belov—a Ukrainian who lives in California and a Kazakh citizen with a tourist visa, respectively—purchased fake Texas and Nevada driver’s licenses in San Francisco before setting out on a minivan road trip to Fort Worth, Texas.

Belov didn’t speak much English, so Yezersky acted as a translator.

Looking to maximize their chances to buy guns with no questions asked, the Fort Worth Gun Show seemed like a good choice. Held in a sprawling, Art Deco stadium from the 1930s, the arms fair is one of the largest in the country and brings in tens of thousands of visitors six weekends every year.

But background checks were still a problem. The federal government requires many firearm dealers—those who make their living or make significant profits selling guns—to have licenses, and to screen customers with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

This requires every buyer fill out a form, which the dealer uses to reference with the system. Usually it just takes a quick phone call. But gun shows also attract a bazaar of small-time hobby dealers who are exempt from this system. This exemption is commonly—and controversially—known as the gun show loophole.

An undercover squad of Fort Worth police officers and ATF agents patrolled the stadium on the lookout for potential traffickers looking to exploit this loophole.

And that’s when they spotted Belov and Yezersky.

The first clue came from one of the dealers. The men approached a licensed dealer seeking to buy a handgun, but walked away when the dealer told them about the required form. The dealer then reported the two men to the cops.

Following the pair around the stadium, the agents started noticing more suspicious behavior. “They walked through the gun show seeking out unlicensed dealers and or certain firearms as opposed to walking each aisle in a methodical manner so as to view all the exhibits,” the complaint states.

A standard gun show. Mo Barger/Flickr photo. At top—handguns on display in Mandaluyong, The Philippines on July 18, 2013. Bullit Marquez/AP photo

The firearms that perked their interest the most? Glock, Sig Sauer and Smith and Wesson handguns.

More than once, Belov and Yezersky walked away after dealers told them they would need to undergo a background check. The agents quickly clued in on “this behavior being an indicator of a person that is prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms,” the complaint added.

Even more suspicious, the pair spoke in Russian over the phone with an “unknown subject.” Given the Texan cops’ lack of familiarity with the Russian language, they didn’t know what they were saying. But the agents suspected the pair were taking orders from buyers overseas.

It got more suspicious. While negotiating with another dealer for a Kel-Tec PRM-30—a .22-caliber pistol with a velocity comparable to a .22-caliber rifle—Belov pulled out more than $500 in cash. The dealer asked them to fill out a form, which made Belov visibly nervous.

Yezersky took his place and filled out the form. But after the dealer told them about the background check, the pair “instantly took the cash from the table and left the booth.”

Minutes later, the pair were headed to their minivan, when the agents confronted the alleged traffickers. They had nine pistols, including a Glock 19 and a Smith and Wesson SD9 VE—both nine-millimeter handguns. Then during questioning in the parking lot, and later at an ATF office, a picture began to emerge.

According to the agency, the pair planned to hide the guns in car seats on a container ship for the long, slow journey to Asia. But they apparently changed their minds, and that Belov “planned to ship the firearms by FedEx because the container ship would take approximately three months and he needed to sell the guns quickly,” the complaint states.

Yezersky was more of a helper. He helped buy the guns, but his cut of the profit depended on how much Belov made selling them in Kazakhstan. But it seemed like he’d make a good profit out of it. The guns would go for two or three thousand dollars a piece overseas, several times their purchase price in the United States.

The agents arrested the pair and charged them with unlawful possession—for slightly different reasons. Yezersky couldn’t legally buy guns because of a prior conviction on a domestic violence charge. Belov’s tourist visa prohibited him from possessing guns.

Although there can be exceptions for someone on a tourist visa, “none of those exceptions apply to Belov,” according to the ATF.