Pinoy U.S. “Spy Plane” Parts Seller On E-Bay Sentenced

CHICAGO (jGLi) – A Filipino businessman was sentenced Tuesday (Nov. 8) to time served after pleading guilty to selling a United States Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), commonly known as “drone,” without a license, on E-Bay that would have made him richer by US$2,600 (111,800 Philippine pesos).

Henson Chua, a vendor of radios and equipments in Quezon City in the Philippines, was trying to supplement his income by buying and selling goods online thru “E-Bay.” But he was snared in a “sting” operation conducted online by agents of the U.S. Homeland Security.

The case, according to Chua’s lawyer, William F. Jung, is so inconsequential because the UAV parts involved “were inoperable, harmless abandoned parts (a nose cone with camera, part of a fuselage, and one wing that has no control unit), of a non-weapon,” “posed little or no risk to harming the security or foreign policy interest of the United States,” and even a “UAV hobbyists may purchase a Raven kit online and make their own non-official, operational Raven for their hobby enthusiasm.”

Chua’s costly mistake was coming to the U.S. on a valid non-immigrant visa, presumably to visit his wife, who is an American citizen but who prefers to live in the U.S. while he takes care of his 85-year-old widowed mother in the Philippines.

If whole, a “Raven” is a surveillance “model airplane,” incapable of being armed except for a camera, about 54 inches wingspan, hand-launched with a flight time of 70 minutes.

When he arrived in the U.S. on Feb. 10 this year, Chua was arrested and charged with three counts of “knowingly and willfully conspiring with others to import into the U.S. and export from the U.S. a defense article without first obtaining a license or other authorization from the U.S Department of State, Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.” One count carries maximum penalties of 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of $1-million, a term of supervised release of not more than three years an a special assessment of $100.

Chua’s Sony Vaio laptop computer and his Nokia E90 phone were also seized from him at the port of entry as “they contained references to communications between the defendant and UC officers and others, we well as other evidence related to this investigation.”

After pleading guilty to one of three counts, Chua, according to court documents provided this reporter by Amy Filjones, public affairs staff of the U.S. Attorney’s office of Middle District of Florida in Tampa, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge James S. Moody, Jr. to “time served as to count one of the indictment,” three years of supervised release, $13,000 fine and a special assessment fee of $100.” Chua was jailed for seven weeks following his arrest and was later placed on house arrest with a monitoring device in his ankle.

AUSA AGREED TO ‘DOWNWARD DEPARTURE”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara C. Sweeney agreed to “downward departure from sentencing” guidelines after Chua pleaded guilty to one count and after Chua agreed to “cooperate fully with the United States in the prosecution of other persons” by extending “substantial assistance” to the investigators.

In a “notice of satisfaction of money judgment” on Sept. 1, 2011, Assistant U.S Attorney Anita M. Cream told the court that the “undersigned Assistant U.S. Attorney, hereby gives notice of satisfaction of the $13,000 money judgment.”

It was on May 6, 2010 when the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Homeland Security was contacted by Special Operations Command (SOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa of a UAV listed on eBay.com identified as “Raven, a small reconnaissance-type aircraft that has advanced cameras in its nose cone” that sells for US$13,000.

While Special Agent Nicholas S. Anderson of the Homeland Security Investigations was investigating, another HSI agent in California was also able to see the “Raven” on eBay and was also conducting his own investigation.

The two agents contacted the seller of Raven thru eBay and the seller turned out to be Chua. The California agent was pretending to be a buyer for a “Russian” client.

When Chua was told that he needed an authorization from the U.S. State Department to sell the Raven, Chua still took the chance to sell the “Raven” in two parts in two equal amounts of US$6,500 for a total of $13,000.

“RAVEN” USED IN MINDANAO?

Chua said he would be making 20 percent from the sale of the Raven from its owner, Mr. Pablo Cotaoco who bought it during a Philippine government public auction in February 2008.

According to court records, the U.S. government sent parts of the UAV via DHL to the Philippine in 2007. “Somehow these parts ended up in an abandoned property auction at the Manila airport in 2009.” Mr. Cataoco purchased these parts and asked Mr. Chua to sell it on e-Bay for a 20 percent commission.

Last Sept. 6, the Washington Post reported that a secret U.S. military organization rivaling the CIA has mounted “intelligence-gathering missions and lethal raids not only in Afghanistan and Iraq but also in countries including the Philippines with which the United States is not at war.”

Created in 1980, this secretive group known as the US military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has grown from 1,800 troops prior to 9/11 (Sept. 11, 2001) when al-Qaeda terrorists toppled New York’s Twin Towers with hijacked airplanes to as many as 25,000, a number that fluctuates according to its mission.

“In the Philippines, for example, JSOC could undertake psychological operations to confuse or trap al-Qaeda operatives, but it needed approval from the White House for lethal action,” the article said.

America’s largely quiet role in helping the Philippines battle terrorists became evident after US missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham were kidnapped inMay 2001 and held for ransom for more than a year by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The Atlantic monthly magazine in its cover story in March 2007 said the US played a crucial role in finding and killing ASG leader Abu Sabaya bysupplying him with a bugged satellite telephone and tracking his movements with unmanned Predators, which said to be similar to the Raven.

Abu Sabaya was reportedly killed during an offshore clash with military Filipino commandos near Zamboanga in June 2002, just days after a botched rescue of the Burnhams. His body was never found. (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

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