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Fort Lewis captain pleads guilty to smuggling

Post by News Tribune Staff on July 28, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
July 28, 2008 5:01 pm

An Army captain from Fort Lewis pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge that he purposely mislabeled customs forms to illegally ship firearms sights to persons in Japan.


Capt. Tomoaki Iishiba, 34, of Dupont pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Seattle to a single count of conspiracy to smuggle goods from the United States.


Federal prosecutors and Iishiba’s attorney agreed that “the defendant did not intend to threaten a security or foreign policy interest of the United States and that defendant’s conduct did not constitute such a threat,” according to a press release by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle.


In exchange for his plea prosecutors will ask U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman to sentence Iishiba to three years probation. The maximum penalty is five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.


The sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 7.


Iishiba admitted that between 2006 and last February, he shipped 60 holographic firearms sights, some compatible for use with night-vision equipment, “to individuals and business contacts in Japan,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He also shipped firearm parts modified for Airsoft – weaponry used by participants in a simulated-combat game similar to paintball – and various scopes.


The sights and other firearms accessories are available for sale on the Internet.


Prosecutors said Iishiba deliberately mislabeled the customs forms on the shipments because he knew sending them to Japan required an export license.


“This individual chose to misclassify the documents that he sent. That clearly shows, to my point of view, that he knew what he was doing was wrong,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the office of investigations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Seattle.


Winchell said the case originated from the agency’s customs attache in Tokyo. He said he didn’t know if there were similar investigations on the receiving end by authorities in Japan, where it is illegal to receive firearms parts by mail without government permission.


Iishiba was born and raised in Japan and came to the United States in 1993 for college. He joined the Army in 1999, served a combat tour in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division in 2003 and wrote a book about his combat experience that was a hit some with military-age men in Japan.


He is currently assigned as an assistant operations officer on the I Corps staff at Fort Lewis. During the corps’ annual training exercise last December with the Japanese military, known as Yama Sakura, he served as a liaison to the intelligence section of the Japanese Northern Army staff.


Iishiba’s attorney, Robert Leen of Seattle, said any possible disciplinary action by the Army would be determined after sentencing in federal court in November.


“Capt. Iishiba has served his country with honor and distinction under fire,” Leen said. “This was an unfortunate lapse of judgment on his part, and there are consequences that he’ll have to live with as a result.”

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