Accused Romania-based arms trafficker convicted in U.S. terror trial
By Nate Raymond NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Romanian-born man was convicted on Wednesday on U.S. charges that he conspired with two former European officials to sell $15 million worth of weapons to undercover informants posing as Colombian rebels.
Virgil Flaviu Georgescu, 43, was found guilty by a federal jury in Manhattan on charges that he conspired to provide material support to terrorists and conspired to murder officers and employees of the United States, prosecutors said. Georgescu, who is a U.S. citizen, faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on Sept. 16. His trial followed his arrest in Montenegro in 2014 following a Drug Enforcement Administration sting operation. That sting also resulted in the arrests of Cristian Vintila, a former director of the Romanian agency responsible for buying arms for its military, and Massimo Romagnoli, an ex-member of Italy’s parliament. Vintila, 45, and Romagnoli, 45, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges and agreed to testify against Georgescu, who denied wrongdoing and claimed he engaged in the deal to help the Central Intelligence Agency. Georgescu’s attorney did not respond to request. Prosecutors said in 2014, Georgescu was introduced to a paid DEA informant posing as an associate of the Colombian rebel group FARC, which the U.S. government has designated a foreign terrorist organization. The informant was told that Georgescu was a well-connected arms-broker, prosecutors said. As a result, he told Georgescu that FARC was seeking weapons to shoot down American helicopters to protect its cocaine trafficking operations. Prosecutors said Georgecu agreed to participate in the $15 million weapons deal, and recruited Vintila and Romagnoli to help facilitate it. “The defendant was given an opportunity to put millions of dollars of high-powered weapons into the hands of men he understood to be terrorists, and he jumped at the opportunity,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ilan Graff said at the trial’s start. But Albert Dayan, Georgescu’s lawyer, argued at trial that his client participated in the deal to help the CIA investigate weapons trafficking. In his opening statement, Dayan said after being contacted about a potential FARC deal, Georgescu called a CIA tip line and outlined the steps he would take to assist the agency. He previously worked as an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the early 2000s while living in Nevada during a probe of an organized crime syndicate, Dayan said. “He’s a modern day American hero,” he said. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)