4 charged with shipping guns to Lebanon to remain in custody

May 15, 2015, 2:48 PM
This combo of booking photos released by Linn County Sheriff’s Office in Cedar Rapids. Iowa, ...
This combo of booking photos released by Linn County Sheriff's Office in Cedar Rapids. Iowa, shows four relatives, from left, Adam Herz, Ali Herz, Bassem Herz and Al Sarah Zeaiter, who are charged in Iowa on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, with conspiring to smuggle guns and ammunition to Lebanon that were hidden with equipment exports and supplies for Syrian refugees. Federal agents intercepted cargo containers in March and again last week that were bound for Beirut carrying a total of 152 firearms and 16,000 rounds of ammunition, according to a criminal complaint. The complaint says the four came under suspicion as they stockpiled more than $100,000 worth of guns and ammunition legally purchased from dealers in eastern Iowa over the last 17 months. (Linn County Sheriff's Office via AP)
(Linn County Sheriff's Office via AP)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Four relatives charged with stockpiling weapons in Iowa to ship to Lebanon were making money trafficking arms in a war-torn region and may have ties to Hezbollah, federal investigators said Friday.

The four were arrested this week after agents intercepted shipping containers that had more than 100 guns and 16,000 rounds of ammunition hidden inside construction equipment being exported, along with supplies for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Two of the men had been planning to travel to Lebanon this week, agents said during a court hearing that revealed more details about the suspects and alleged plot.

One key detail remained unclear: who was to receive the shipments after they arrived in Beirut.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jon Scoles ordered three of those charged — 50-year-old Ali Herz; his son, 22-year-old Adam Herz; and Sarah Zeaiter, 24– to remain in federal custody pending trial. He said they represented a flight risk because of their ties to Lebanon and potential funding sources to get there. The fourth suspect, Bassem Herz, 30, who is Zeaiter’s husband, didn’t seek release and remains jailed.

Agents said they were still processing a large amount of information seized during searches conducted Tuesday of Cedar Rapids homes and businesses. But they said Ali Herz had long been suspected of ties to Hezbollah in Lebanon and suggested the weapon sales may be linked to the group, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rich Murphy said he wondered “what the connections are” that allowed Ali Herz to own land and a large, ornate home in Lebanon, where he lives part-time.

Several informants have told the FBI that Ali Herz has expressed support for Hezbollah, and a photo of the group’s leader appeared on his Facebook page, according to the testimony. Herz’s ex-wife told investigators that he was familiar with the group and its leaders, and that she was present when he had a meeting with members in 1992, investigators said.

Ali Herz’s lawyer, Anne Laverty, said he had no ties to Hezbollah or any other terrorist groups in the U.S. or abroad, dismissing the implication of terrorist connections as “distraction and scare tactics” based on secondhand information. She said he made his money as a land developer in Lebanon, and was a member of the Republican Party.

Scoles said there was strong evidence the four were illegally shipping guns abroad. He said it was possible the weapons were being sold for profit to Lebanese citizens who want to protect themselves amid turmoil or that they were going to “terrorist organizations for bad purposes.”

“I’m not going to speculate” because the evidence isn’t clear, he said.

Testimony revealed that the suspects were buying guns and ammunition from Iowa dealers that would sell for up to 10 times the price in Lebanon, where demand for weapons has surged in recent years amid regional instability.

Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed more than 220,000 people. Shiite fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah have backed the forces of President Bashar Assad. The United Nations says there are about 1.2 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon, though Beirut estimates many more.

During a search of the Cedar Rapids apartment where Zeaiter and Bassem Herz live with their 8-month-old child, investigators found $33,000 cash, 14,000 rounds of ammunition and a handwritten ledger showing how much weapons cost in Iowa and Lebanon. The ledger, written by Zeaiter, showed that they expected to bring in $1 million for a shipment that would cost $100,000 to assemble, Murphy said. A Glock pistol that costs $500 in Iowa, for instance, might fetch $4,200 in Lebanon.

“It’s quite clear that, at a minimum, these people are selling firearms at a huge, huge profit,” Murphy said.

Adam Herz, a dental technician student, and his father were “going over to get the guns and do their business overseas” before their arrests prevented them from traveling to Lebanon as planned this week, he said.

Previous weapons shipments were not intercepted. An investigator testified that Ali Herz said during an interview this week that two shipments brought in $180,000 last year and the one intercepted last week was to bring in $200,000.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

United States News

Associated Press

4 bears killed in Alaska campground reserved for homeless

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska wildlife officials have killed four black bears in a campground recently reserved for people in Anchorage who are homeless after the city’s largest shelter was closed. Employees from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday killed a sow and her two cubs and another adult bear that was […]
18 hours ago
Yesenia Hernandez, granddaughter to Nicolas Toledo, who was killed during Monday's Highland Park., ...
Associated Press

‘Taken too soon’: Remembering Highland Park shooting victims

CHICAGO (AP) — Two of the victims of a July 4 parade massacre in a Chicago suburb left behind a 2-year-old son. Another was staying with family in Illinois after he was injured in car wreck about two months earlier. For some, it was a tradition. They were avid travelers, members of their synagogue and […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Ex-‘Cheer’ star Harris gets 12 years for seeking photos, sex

CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge Wednesday sentenced Jerry Harris, a former star of the Netflix documentary series “Cheer,” to 12 years in prison for coercing teenage boys to send him obscene photos and videos of themselves and soliciting sex from minors at cheerleading competitions. U.S. District Judge Manish Shah also ordered that the sentence […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

California woman fakes cancer, forges notes to avoid prison

SAN DIEGO (AP) — One note submitted to the federal judge sentencing a 38-year-old California woman for embezzlement claimed that a biopsy had revealed “cancerous cells” in her uterus. Another indicated that she was undergoing a surgical procedure, and her cancer had spread to the cervix. Yet another letter warned she “cannot be exposed to […]
18 hours ago
Associated Press

Virgin Galactic taps Boeing subsidiary to build motherships

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Virgin Galactic announced Wednesday that it is partnering with a Boeing subsidiary to manufacture the next generation of the twin-fuselage aircraft used to carry aloft the space tourism company’s rocket ship. Aurora Flight Sciences will build two of the special carrier planes at its facilities in Mississippi and West Virginia. Final […]
18 hours ago
Helena Kavanaugh, right, stands with friends Addison Schwan, center, and Charlie Shookman after Kav...
Associated Press

Police: Parade shooting suspect contemplated 2nd shooting

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. (AP) — The man charged with killing seven people at an Independence Day parade confessed to police that he unleashed a hail of bullets from a rooftop in suburban Chicago and then fled to the Madison, Wisconsin, area, where he contemplated shooting up an event there, authorities said Wednesday. The suspect turned […]
18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
4 charged with shipping guns to Lebanon to remain in custody