A man who sold parts of an unmanned military drone on eBay pleaded guilty this morning to violating arms export and smuggling laws.
Henson Chua, 47, of Manila, Philippines, was arrested in February after Homeland Security officials said he shipped a 3-foot-long, hand-launched, computer-controlled RQ-11A/B Raven to undercover agents.
His attorney, William Jung, told a federal magistrate this morningthat the sale did not involve a whole drone. "It wasn't the entire thing," the lawyer said. "It didn't have wings. It was basically parts."
Chua faces up to 20 years in prison, but likely far less under federal sentencing guidelines. Under his plea arrangement, Chua agreed to cooperate with investigators, including, in limited circumstances, testifying against members of his family, if necessary.
According to the plea agreement, U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May 2010 after seeing the drone listed for sale for $13,000 on the Internet auction site.
Through a bar code visible on one of the photographs posted on the site, Socom identified the vehicle as belonging to the command. As the Tampa investigation began, Homeland Security agents in Los Angeles began their own independent probe.
Chua said he was representing the owner, who had purchased it at a Philippines government auction as abandoned property, according to an arrest affidavit.
The agents told Chua they were acting on behalf of a Russian buyer, authorities said
While undercover agents were negotiating the sale, eBay removed the item from the site because it violated policies relating to the sale of military items, according to the plea agreement.
Tampa agents continued to communicate with Chua by phone and email, and discussed difficulties with obtaining the proper paperwork. According to the plea agreement, the sale was consummated last August, even though the proper permits were never obtained.
Using Pay Pal, the agents sent Chua the money, and Chua sent the drone in two parts, first the fuselage and then the nose cone. Then, for unspecified reasons, Chua came to the United States in February and was arrested.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Sweeney told U.S. Magistrate Anthony Porcelli this morning that Chua has already given the government a certified check for the $13,000, reimbursing it for the money sent to him in the undercover investigation.