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WASHINGTON — A federal jury convicted a Pennsylvania man on May 19 for numerous crimes, including the 2015 torture of an Estonian citizen in connection with the operation of an illegal weapons manufacturing plant in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Philadelphia and the FBI investigated the torture charge and were joined in investigating the export control violations related to the firearms manufacturing equipment by the Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, Ross Roggio, 54, of Stroudsburg, arranged for Kurdish soldiers to abduct and detain the victim at a Kurdish military compound. At the compound, Roggio suffocated the victim with a belt, threatened to cut off one of his fingers, and directed Kurdish soldiers to repeatedly beat, tase, choke and otherwise physically and mentally abuse the victim over a 39-day period. The victim was employed at a weapons factory that Roggio was developing in Kurdistan that was intended to manufacture M4 automatic rifles and Glock 9mm pistols.
In connection with the weapons factory project, which included Roggio training foreign people to operate, assemble and manufacture the M4, he also illegally exported firearm parts that were controlled for export by the Departments of State and Commerce.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is firmly dedicated to pursuing those who commit human rights violations, like Roggio, to ensure perpetrators face justice for their atrocities,” said ICE’s Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tae D. Johnson. “Our investigators will continue to work tirelessly with government partners so these horrendous acts do not go without consequence.”
“Roggio brutally tortured another human being to prevent interference with his illegal activities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Thanks to the courage of the victim and other witnesses, the hard work of U.S. law enforcement, and the assistance of Estonian authorities, he will now be held accountable for his cruelty.”
“Today’s guilty verdict demonstrates that Roggio’s brutal acts of directing and participating in the torture of an employee over the course of 39 days by Kurdish soldiers could not avoid justice,” said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Gerard M. Karam. “We thank all the prosecutors and law enforcement agents who worked tirelessly to address these acts that occurred in Iraq.”
“Today’s milestone conviction is the result of the extraordinary courage of the victim, who came forward after the defendant inflicted unspeakable pain on him for more than a month,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Torture is among the most heinous crimes the FBI investigates, and together with our partners at the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC), we will relentlessly pursue justice.”
“The illegal export of firearms parts and tools from the United States often goes hand in hand with other criminal activities, such as the charge of torture on which the jury voted to convict the defendant,” said Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Carson of the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security’s Office of Export Enforcement in New York. “I commend our law enforcement colleagues for their dedication to bringing justice in this case.”
Roggio was convicted of torture, conspiracy to commit torture, conspiring to commit an offense against the United States, exporting weapons parts and services to Iraq without the approval of the Department of State, exporting weapons tools to Iraq without the approval of the Department of Commerce, smuggling goods, wire fraud, and money laundering. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 23 and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine his sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Roggio is the second defendant to be convicted of torture since the federal torture statute went into effect in 1994.
Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Scott A. Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Todd K. Hinkley are prosecuting the case. The Estonian Internal Security Service, the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, and the Pennsylvania State Police also provided valuable assistance.
Established in 2008, the HRVWCC furthers HSI’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. The HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders.
Currently, HSI has more than 160 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,700 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 78,000 lookouts for individuals and stopped over 350 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the United States.
Members of the public who have information about foreign nationals suspected of engaging in human rights abuses or war crimes are urged to call the HSI tip line at 866-347-2423. Callers may remain anonymous. Individuals can also fill out the online tip form.
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