U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Tamufor Nchumuluh St. Michael, age 42, of Rosedale, Maryland, yesterday to 30 months in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release, for conspiracy and for violating the Arms Export Control Act by sending firearms, ammunition, and other military-type items from the United States to Nigeria without obtaining a license from the U.S. Department of State. The arms were intended to assist separatists fighting against the government of Cameroon.
The sentence was announced by Erek L. Barron, United States Attorney for the District of Maryland; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Baltimore; Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) Baltimore Field Division; and Special Agent in Charge Christopher Dillard of the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (“DCIS”) – Mid-Atlantic Field Office.
According to his plea agreement, from at least November 2017 continuing until July 19, 2019, St. Michael and his co-defendants conspired with each other and with others to export firearms, ammunition and other military type items from the United States to Nigeria. Between March 2018 and July 2019, St. Michael and his co-conspirators purchased, both over the internet and in person, large amounts of ammunition, ammunition reloading supplies, firearms, firearm parts and other military-type items, which were sent to St. Michael’s residence. St. Michael purchased at least 24 different rifles online, which he picked up at a firearms retailer in Essex, Maryland. In each case, he certified an ATF Firearms Transaction Form certifying that he was the actual transferee or buyer of the firearm. St. Michael knew the certificates were false because the guns were purchased to export overseas.
In December 2018, a shipping container with a 1989 Toyota truck inside was delivered to the street outside St. Michael’s residence. St. Michael and other co-conspirators loaded the container, secreting 38 firearms, 28 of which had the obliterated serial numbers, including sniper rifles, SKS assault rifles (some with bayonets), other rifles and several handguns. They also concealed 44 high-capacity magazines, two rifle scopes and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition in the container The conspirators concealed the firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes, and other items in duffle bags and heavily wrapped packages inside sealed compressor units, placing those items into the shipping container. The container was sent to the Port of Baltimore for export, departing on January 17, 2019, with a destination of Onne, Nigeria. Co-conspirator Tse Ernst Bangarie caused the electronic export information (“EEI”) to be filed with the Department of Commerce, listing the contents of the container as one Toyota Tundra truck, one 1989 Toyota truck, and “doors and frames.” The EEI also listed the U.S. Principal Party in Interest as an individual with the initials M.A.O. and a non-existent address. The telephone number listed for M.A.O. corresponded with a pre-paid cellular telephone. Bangarie knew that much of the information on the EEI was false and he intentionally did not include any mention of the firearms, ammunition and other items hidden in the container.
Approximately one month later, the shipping container was ordered returned to the Port of Baltimore and on May 20, 2019, law enforcement personnel in Baltimore unsealed the container and examined its contents. In addition to the trucks and what appeared to be the contents of an old schoolhouse, the defendants and their co-conspirators had concealed firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes, and other items in duffle bags placed in the trucks and in heavily wrapped packages inside sealed compressor units, in the shipping container. In all, law enforcement recovered from the shipping container 38 firearms, 28 of which had obliterated serial numbers. The guns included sniper rifles, SKS assault rifles (some with bayonets), other rifles and several handguns. There were 44 high-capacity magazines, two rifle scopes and over 35,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as military-type items, including boots, pepper spray, zip-tie style handcuffs, hydration packs, a “ghillie suit” designed to camouflage the wearer outdoors, and other items. The ghillie suit and other items still had shipping labels on them that were addressed to St. Michael at his residence on Golden Ring Road.
Between June 4, 2019 and June 12, 2019, St. Michael, who did not know that law enforcement had searched the container, contacted U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) several times seeking information about the container’s status. St. Michael indicated to CBP officers that he was one of five people who had put the shipment together for export and that he had cargo in the container. Eventually he sent an email to the CBP officer, attaching copies of the dock receipt and titles for the two Toyota trucks found in the container.
As detailed in his plea agreement and other court document, on July 19, 2019, law enforcement executed a search warrant at St. Michael’s residence. The basement of the residence contained machinery and equipment for the manufacturing of firearms and re-loading of ammunition, as well as rifles, handguns, firearms parts and accessories, a silencer, rifle scopes, powder, and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
St. Michael admitted that he and his co-conspirators had intentionally hidden the firearms, ammunition, and military items in the container, that he knew the information on the EEI was false, that he knew neither he nor his co-conspirators had obtained the necessary licenses or authorizations from the Departments of State or Commerce to export the firearms or military items, and that he knew his actions violated the law.
Seven other members of the conspiracy pleaded guilty to their involvement in the conspiracy. Judge Bennett sentenced Godlove Nche Manchoe, Tse Ernst Bangarie and Edith Ngang each to 46 months of incarceration and two more are awaiting are awaiting sentencing. A jury convicted three other members for the conspiracy, transportation of firearms with obliterated serial numbers, and smuggling following a jury trial in May 2022. Judge Bennett has sentenced two of those individuals, Eric Fru Nji and Wilson Nuyila Tita, to 63 months of incarceration and the third, Wilson Che Fonguh, is awaiting sentencing.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended HSI, the ATF and DCIS for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron recognized the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement; the U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service; the Naval Criminal Investigative Service; and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their contributions to the investigation. U.S. Attorney Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, who is prosecuting the case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.