PHILADELPHIA – A Belarus man admits he bought $700,000 worth of rifle scopes, night-vision goggles and other military hardware from U.S. exporters, but his lawyer said he sold them to hunters, not terrorists.
The sentencing of Siarhei "Sergey" Baltutski began this month in Philadelphia, but is on hold till Oct. 15 while the defense prepares its case. He was arrested during a family trip to Florida and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate arms control, commerce and money laundering laws.
The Justice Department argues that Baltutski had small teams of exporters in Philadelphia, Chicago and Florida ship the equipment to him in Belarus, often through the mail but sometimes in diplomatic pouches, with the help of an unnamed insider.
Baltutski bought the same types of scopes, goggles and military hardware that enemy fighters have used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and resold them on the international market, authorities said.
"While none of the identified devices have been recovered overseas, they could have been sent anywhere in the world, including the world's numerous conflict zones," Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Livermore wrote in an Aug. 30 sentencing memo.
However, defense lawyer Arkady Bukh argues that the equipment was sold on Ebay and can be used for various purposes, both legal and illegal.
He said that recreational hunters use night goggles and scopes to hunt boar or even coyote.
"That's what they do in Belarus; they hunt boars. They run at night," Bukh said.
Nonetheless, he said his client concedes that he violated U.S. laws that ban the overseas sale of the items.
"His argument was very simple: "I'm responsible, but I didn't know, and I didn't have to know American laws when I live in Belarus," Bukh said in an interview Thursday.
His client was arrested in 2011 while traveling to the U.S. to go to Florida with his family, where they planned to visit Disney World, he said. He remains incarcerated, and faces nine to 11 years in prison under standard sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors, though, are seeking up to 15 years because of what they call the "severity" of the conduct.
The case was initially filed under seal in 2011. Several co-defendants pleaded guilty in the case and received lesser terms, Buhk said.