Alberto Pichardo, Freddy Arguelles, Victor Brown, Kirk Drellich were all arrested after federal authorities accused them of illegally exporting military aircraft equipment to Venezuela, according to a press release by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida. 40-year-old Pichardo of Weston, 37-year-old Arguelles of Pembroke Pines, 55-year-old Victor Brown of Hialeah, and 49-year-old Drellich of Davie were charged with various counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the exportation of goods on the United States Munition List. It remains unclear whether any of the defendants has qualified for bail bond or hired a private criminal defense attorney.
According to the press release, the arrests were made after an investigation involving the FBI into the the exportation of aircraft equipment to Venezuela, a country ruled by a dictator with controversial nuclear pastimes. Pichardo and Brown face charges of both engaging in conspiracies to violate the Arms Export Control Act and actually violating the Act. Pichardo, who faces two counts each of violating the Act and attempting to do so, could face up to 30 years in prison as well as a $2,500,000 fine. Brown, who faces eighteen counts of violating the Act and a single count of conspiring to do so, will be subject to well over a normal human lifespan in prison if convicted. Dreillich and Arguelles were each charged with one count of conspiring to violate the Act, for which they face up to five years behind bars and $250,000 fines. At least one of the defendants is a Venezuelan national; nationals of other countries are often denied bail on the grounds that they are at risk of fleeing.
News sources indicate that Pichardo is a Venezuelan Air Force officer who woks at the Venezuelan Military Acquisitions Office located in Doral, Florida. He allegedly worked with Arguelles (a former Venezuelan pilot living in Pembroke Pines), Brown (an aircraft parts trader based in Hialeah Gardens) and Drellich (who owns Davie’s SkyHigh Accessories) to purchase aircraft parts and weapons for the Venezuelan government. These parts were reportedly mostly for F-16 military aircraft and included assemblies, antennas, and more destructive items such as missile detonators.
It appears as though authorities believe that more conspirators were involved in the operation than the four indicted defendants. Reports mention two other unnamed conspirators who helped Venezuela purchase two T56 jet engines for $3.43 million. Another conspirator allegedly worked with Pichardo and Arguelles to obtain vast amounts of military aircraft equipment between 2008 and 2010. This equipment allegedly eventually made its way into the hands of the Venezuelan Air Force. It is not yet clear whether these additional alleged conspirators are currently in the country, nor is it known whether they will be facing prosecution.
The allegations are particularly politically charged because of recent reports that Venezuela has been involved in arming Iranian insurgents. According to the press, Venezuela recently granted Iran access to at least one F-16 military jet in order to ward off intervention in its’ nuclear pursuits. It is not clear whether Venezuela has commented on the allegations.