RALEIGH — Five former Blackwater employees broke a series of federal firearms laws to give the company a leg up over rivals in the military contracting and training business, according to a federal indictment issued Friday.
Company officials phonied federal paperwork to cover up a gift of firearms to the king of Jordan, whom Blackwater was courting as a client, the indictment said.
Former president Gary Jackson used the tiny Camden County Sheriff's Office as a front to buy automatic AK-47s that Blackwater wanted for its training facility in Moyock. And the company illegally possessed short-barreled rifles that Blackwater officials deemed useful for winning security contracts.
Also charged were former Vice President William W. Mathews Jr., former General Counsel Andrew Howell, former Vice President Ana Bundy, and Ronald Slezak, who handled federal paperwork for firearms.
The indictment is the latest bad news for Blackwater, which changed its name to Xe in 2009. Blackwater burst into the spotlight in 2004 when four of its contractors were massacred in Fallujah, Iraq, which triggered two attacks on Fallujah by U.S. Marines. In September 2007, Blackwater contractors killed 17 civilians in a Baghdad square, outraging the Iraqi government. Several Blackwater guards were charged, but a federal judge threw out the indictments because of misconduct by federal prosecutors. Last year, press reports linked Blackwater to a secret CIA program to assassinate top al-Qaida operatives - a program kept secret from Congress.
Friday's charges stem from a wide-ranging federal investigation of Blackwater's weapons dealings, which began in February 2006, according to officials and documents. The investigation looked into numerous allegations - not all of which are covered in the indictment - that the company had exported firearms and other weapons without a license.
The indictment highlighted how Blackwater marketed its personal protection and military training services to countries worldwide.
Gifts for Jordan's king
Jordan's King Abdullah II visited Blackwater's headquarters in March 2005 with an entourage, the indictment said. To gain favor with the king, Blackwater made a gift of five weapons etched with the Blackwater logo - three Glocks, an M4 Bushmaster and a Remington shotgun.
Afterward, Blackwater employees realized they could not account for the weapons and falsely completed federal forms stating that Jackson and a second person had purchased the weapons, the indictment said.
Jordan is a key U.S. ally and strategically situated next door to Iraq. And this was not the only time Blackwater sent weapons to Jordan.
In February 2006, the company sought a State Department license to export more than $30,000 worth of weapons, including Bushmaster M4 rifles, to Abdullah's private security detail. The State Department approved that export but denied the company's bid to also sell silencers for the machine guns.
The indictment charges the Blackwater employees with a straw gun purchase first reported by The News & Observer in June 2008.
In 2005, Blackwater bought 17 automatic Romanian AK-47s and 17 automatic Bushmasters and gave ownership to the Camden County Sheriff, whose 19-member staff has few crimes to deal with in a county of fewer than 10,000 people. The sheriff's office never used the weapons.
In a June 2008 interview, Jackson was asked the reason for the deal: "Because they needed guns, I imagine," he said.
According to the indictment, Blackwater thought the automatic weapons would increase its ability to win government contracts and used them at Blackwater's Moyock training facility.
Under federal law, it is illegal for a person to receive or possess an automatic weapon that is not registered to that person in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
Mark Corallo, a company spokesman, said the company would not comment beyond saying that it fully cooperated with federal investigators.
Patrick Woodward, a lawyer for Slezak, released a statement saying his client would be vindicated. "Ron is a patriot - Army vet and Navy ship builder for 30 years in Norfolk, Va.," he said.
The other defendants and their attorneys could not be reached Friday afternoon.
McClatchy correspondent Jonathan Landay contributed to this report.
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