South Floridians Charged With Selling F-16 Parts To The Venezuelan Air Force

According to recent reports, Venezuela has been supplying Iran with F-16s in an ominous arms trade that should make the rest of the world very queasy.

And a federal indictment filed yesterday makes us wonder if any of those F-16 parts came from our back yard.

Four South Floridians are charged with illegally exporting a litany of parts for fighter jets and helicopters-- particularly F-16s -- for sale to the Venezuelan Air Force.

Where was the conspiracy allegedly based? Out of the Venezuelan Military Acquisitions Office in Doral, Florida. Apparently, allowing a nation run by a hostile dictator to operate a weapons-buying office near Downtown Miami is as bad an idea as it sounds.

Venezuelan Air Force officer Alberto Pichardo worked out of the acquisitions office. He conspired with former Venezuelan pilot and Pembroke Pines resident Freddy Arguelles to buy a list of military aircraft and missile detonation parts, according to their indictment filed in Florida Southern District Court.

Their locally-based alleged co-conspirators included Hialeah Gardens aircraft parts trader Victor Brown and Kirk Drellich, owner of Davie's SkyHigh Accessories. (Its website brags that it is "fully export compliant." We left a message for Drellich with the receptionist at that office.)

In covert meetings in Madrid, Spain, and this Fort Lauderdale address that is disturbingly close to a US Army Reserve Center, Pichardo, Arguelles, and an unidentified co-conspirator arranged to purchase from Drellich a shopping list of military aircraft equipment for the Venezuelan Air Force from 2008 through 2010.

The parts, according to the indictment, included such items as cartridge assemblies, detonation transfer assemblies, radar antennas, rocket motor canopy jettison, and oxygen masks.

Two unidentified co-conspirators also engineered the $3.43 million purchase of two T56 jet engines from another company, using shell corporations in Spain and Florida.

The equipment was then exported to Venezuela. That was a violation of the Arms Export Control Act, which requires a special license to export any goods on the United States Munition List. If found guilty, the defendants could face up to five to ten years for the violations, along with fines of up to $1,000,000 for each violation.

The indictment does not specify what became of the parts which reached Venezuela. But Israel's Haaretz has reported that Venezuela has supplied Iran with at least one F-16 jet "in preparation for a possible Israeli or U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities."

So yeah, thanks for maybe helping them out with that, South Floridian jerks.

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Gus Garcia-Roberts