By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
That was apparently enough to convince Small to move forward with the purchase. Besides, he didn't have as much to lose sending a hapless drummer in his place. The deal that was about to unfold would tell a lot about the world of gun trafficking. Like many similar cases, the low-level operators involved would rat out the others in exchange for short prison sentences. In the end, the accused ringleader would remain free. After arranging a deal that could have armed a rebel force twice the size of the one Fidel Castro began with in Cuba, no one involved would spend more than a few months behind bars.
On May 30, 2001, Glaude paged McKean and met him again in a restaurant parking lot in Fort Lauderdale. The agent took Glaude to a warehouse in Davie for the deal. Inside, 12 blue gym bags held 60 rifles and ten hand-held machine guns. Included were what they covertly referred to as "quieters," or silencers that can be attached to the guns before an execution. The agents began the deal by showing Glaude how to work the silencers.
"Don't these come with magazines?" Glaude asked, according to how he recalled the day later in court.
"They're in the bag," McKean responded. "Do you want to see them?"
Glaude had not touched the guns, and he explained to a federal judge later that he didn't want to. "I wasn't sure if they were even real, you know?" Glaude claimed. "I never handled these kinds of guns before, you know?"
Two minutes after they arrived, McKean told Glaude to pick up the machine guns. "Let's carry this to the van first because these are trouble," the agent told Glaude. "Give me a hand." When the pair put the guns in the back of Glaude's minivan and they officially came into his possession, agents swooped in to grab the drummer turned gunrunner.
Six months later, in November 2001, Glaude entered a guilty plea, and in exchange, prosecutors agreed to charge him only with possessing a machine gun. U.S. District Judge Wilkie Ferguson Jr. sent Glaude to prison for two years. But in March of this year, Ferguson released Glaude after he agreed to testify against Small. So far, though, Trinidad and Tobago has not responded to the U.S. prosecutors' request to extradite Small; federal agents say they're not sure why. But it appears now that only Glaude will serve time for what could have been a gun deal to fuel an uprising. It's typical in the convictions of gunrunners, and likewise for drug smugglers, that the minor players are the only ones who face prison time, says Sam Smargon, Glaude's attorney from the U.S. Public Defender's Office in Miami. "It's the couriers who get caught," Smargon says. "Then the government tries to flip them and often does. But then the big guys often can still walk away for one reason or another."
In court, Glaude described himself as a fall guy: "I never asked for any guns. I never wanted any guns. I wasn't looking for any guns."
Federal agents have never been closer to catching big-time gun smugglers than they were in the fall of 1999. They were so close that they've got pictures to prove it. In the end, though, they would have only low-level operators serving short prison sentences and a pair of fugitives. Their investigation and the prosecutions that followed would dramatically illustrate the difficulty of nailing big-time gun smugglers and the failures in the federal laws that ostensibly punish them.
It started on August 16, 1999, when Rajaa Abbas and Abdul Malik flew in from Pakistan to check out some missiles supposedly on sale in West Palm Beach. They were the infrared, shoulder-fired missiles made for the U.S. military and coveted by terrorists for their ability to shoot planes out of the sky. The pair bragged that the missiles were destined for Islamic groups. They even mentioned the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. More than two years before September 11, the names had little of the resonance they have since acquired. The Taliban controlled an obscure country most people couldn't pinpoint on a map of Asia, and bin Laden's claim to infamy was a possible connection to the explosion of a car bomb in a basement of the World Trade Center in 1993.
The two Pakistanis seemed impressed by the collection of missiles. They should have been: They came directly from stores kept by the ATF and brought there that day by undercover agent Dick Stoltz. Now retired, Stoltz was setting up the deal like a used-car salesman, offering to cut a good price in hopes of unloading what he said were stolen goods. He even snapped pictures as an emotionless Abbas plopped one of the missiles on his shoulder. There they were, two suspected gun smugglers, ready to make a deal. Stoltz tried to pressure them into taking home the weapons that day. But they walked out, saying they needed time to arrange for the money transfer.
Six months later, the pair faxed a wish list to Stoltz, according to court papers. They wanted not only the missiles but guns, airplane parts, and night vision goggles. Most disturbing of all, they requested something called heavy water, a component used in the production of nuclear bombs. The agreed-upon price: $32 million.