Alleged arms smuggling operation uncovered in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA - September 6, 2013

The government calls Sergey Baltutski a major international arms dealer. He was supposed to be sentenced in the case Friday, but that is now on hold.

In the meantime the case was laid out in federal court. It involved a smuggling operation centered in Philadelphia. The government says it put countless U.S. military personnel in harm's way.

The government's star witness and admitted co-conspirator did his best to avoid the cameras after testifying against Sergey Baltutski.

Yahor Osin is one of five Philadelphia men who have pled guilty in the case.

Investigators say Osin bought dozens of high-tech scopes for assault rifles, thermal imaging systems and other night vision devices with military applications.

He recruited other men in Oregon, Illinois and Florida to buy the devices and send them to Philadelphia.

Osin then took them to New York and turned them over to a diplomatic courier from the Belarus embassy. They were shipped to the ringleader in Belarus.

That ring leader, Sergey Baltutski, then resold the devices on the black market.

It is illegal to export them from the U.S. for fear they could fall into enemy hands and be used against our troops in war zones.

Baltutski was arrested when he came to the U.S. in April of 2012.

His lawyer says he was simply selling the scopes and night vision devices to fellow hunters.

"This is not about supplying equipment to terrorists. The government has no evidence, and there has never been an assertion by anybody that my client ever planned on giving this stuff to terrorists," said defense attorney Nicholas Wooldridge.

Investigators say Osin and the others sent Baltutski at least $700,000 worth of the devices, and probably much more.

In a court document, the government says Baltutski's "actions seriously threatened U.S. national security and placed many lives in danger, including the lives of U.S. military men and women in combat around the world."

All eight defendants in the case, including Baltutski, have pled guilty.

He is facing up to 15 years in prison.

"That's ridiculous. It's a travesty. This man is not a murderer, he's not a terrorist, he's not a pedophile, he's not a thief. He's none of those. We're talking about a licensing issue," said Wooldridge.

The judge says what's ridiculous is any claim that the devices were being used only for hunting by sportsmen in Belarus.

He has deferred sentencing for a couple of weeks.

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