Blackwater, skirting federal law, using cache of AK-47s

Published on, By Joseph Neff, June 24th, 2008.

The private military company Blackwater has found an unusual way to skirt federal laws that prohibit private parties from buying automatic weapons. Blackwater bought 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmasters, gave ownership of the guns to the Camden County sheriff and keeps most of the guns at Blackwater’s armory in Moyock.

Tiny Camden County — population 9,271 — is one of the most peaceful in North Carolina. In the last 10 years, there have been two murders, three robberies and seven rapes reported. The sheriff has just 19 deputies.

Sheriff Tony Perry said his department has never used the 17 AK-47s outside of shooting practice at Blackwater. None of his 19 deputies are qualified to use the AK-47s, Perry said, and his department’s need for automatic weapons is “very minimal.”

In the summer of 2005, Blackwater CEO Gary Jackson signed two agreements with Maj. Jon Worthington of the Sheriff’s Office. Worthington has worked as a firearms instructor for Blackwater.

“Blackwater has financed the purchase of 17 Romanian AK-47 rifles for the Camden County Sheriff’s Office for use by Sheriff’s Office,” the agreement says. “The Camden County Sheriff’s Office will have unlimited access to these rifles for training and qualification, and state of emergency use.” Worthington and Jackson also signed an agreement for the purchase of 17 Bushmaster XM15 E2S automatic rifles.

Why did Blackwater strike this deal with the Camden County sheriff?

… Blackwater may also use the AK-47s to train military personnel from other countries who come to the United States for anti-terrorism training funded by the State Department, Prince and Jackson said.

“If the contract tells us to, we do it,” Jackson said.

The agreement between Blackwater and the Sheriff’s Office could be an illegal straw purchase, said Richard Myers, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A straw purchase, Myers said, is when one person fills out the federal firearms registration form to obtain a weapon for another person’s use.

“I prosecuted several when I was with the U.S. attorney,” Myers said. “If I were Blackwater’s attorney, I would be concerned about whether this is a genuine purchase or a straw purchase.”

Sheriff Perry said he did not consult a lawyer about the agreement until recently, when the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI inquired about the arrangement. Last year two former Blackwater employees pleaded guilty to federal firearms violations. They were sentenced to probation on the condition that they assist federal investigators.

Perry said his department was cooperating fully.

“We’re not a target,” Perry said. “We may be a victim in it”. (full text).

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