Assault rifles hidden in pool heater crates led to Brazilian’s gun smuggling arrest

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A wanted Brazilian weapons lord is now behind bars in Miami on charges of smuggling assault-style rifles hidden in a shipment of pool heaters from South Florida to his native country.

Frederik Barbieri, arrested at his Port St. Lucie home on Friday by agents with Homeland Security Investigations, is set to have his first appearance in Miami federal court on Tuesday.

U.S. and Brazilian authorities say Barbieri, 46, organized the shipment of 60 semiautomatic rifles, including AK-47s and other military-type firearms, that were confiscated at Rio de Janeiro airport in May. Barbieri, considered Brazil’s biggest firearms dealer, is also wanted on weapons charges in his homeland.

But federal prosecutors in Miami will proceed first with a variety of weapons charges, including conspiracy, smuggling and illegal exports. According to a U.S. indictment, Barbieri conspired to export firearms to Brazil without a license from May 2013 to June 2017. Barbieri and his co-conspirators purchased firearms, accessories and ammunition — then they obliterated the serial numbers and concealed the weaponry in different packages, prosecutors said.

According to published reports, Barbieri has denied involvement in gun running from his base in Port St. Lucie. But when Homeland Security agents arrested him on Friday, they seized 40 semiautomatic rifles and other weapons at his home, U.S. officials said.

Barbieri moved to Florida in 2012 after Brazilian authorities say he coordinated a shipment of ammunition that was seized at a seaport in Brazil two years earlier. They say he shipped high-powered rifles and handguns from the United States to Brazil to profit off gangs involved in drug trafficking in the slums of Rio de Janeiro.

A 2017 report by the Brazilian Federal Police says that of more than 10,000 firearms seized by authorities in that country over the previous three years, about 1,500 originated in the United States, according to Reuters. The weapons traveled through a third country, normally Paraguay, before arriving in Brazil.

“The U.S. continues to be the largest indirect source of illegal handguns and assault rifles as a result of unrestricted sales in stores and fairs in American cities,” the Brazilian Federal Police report said.

The U.S. investigation was coordinated by Homeland Security Investigations, along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in South Florida.


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