Former soldier dealt in guns, contacted terrorists and will remain locked up, judge says
By CAROL ROBINSON | Alabama Media Group | Published: August 12, 2019
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — A Birmingham man accused of trafficking in weapons seemingly had a fascination with known terrorists, bombs and suppressors and for that reason remains held until trial, according to a federal magistrate.
Arkeuntrez Kenyez Lareco Washington, 23, had written letters to Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to conspiring to kill citizens of the United States as part of the September 11 attacks. Washington, according to federal authorities, was a U.S. Army soldier stationed in Germany and was arrested in Birmingham for desertion just before his discharge from the military in 2018.
“The court does not believe it can fashion any terms or conditions of release that will assure the defendant’s presence and the safety of the community,’’ wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge John E. Ott.
The case against Washington came to light last week when the affidavit against him was unsealed in federal court in Birmingham. He is charged with illegal gun sales in a case that involves weapons advertised online at Armslist.com and shipped to buyers in Mexico, New York and California, court records show.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives launched its probe into Washington in July when agents became aware that Washington had bought multiple weapons from a federal firearms licensee. Such a report is generated when someone purchases two or more firearms within a five-day period from a federally licensed gun dealer.
On June 20, Washington bought three AR-type pistols from Hoover Tactical Firearms and five more on July 3. Agents learned Washington had almost made purchases there on May 24 and June 14. Additionally, between Nov. 21, 2018 and June 8, 2019, Washington had bought five weapons from Academy Sports and Outdoors stores in Birmingham and Hoover. He also bought weapons from Academy between June 3, 2016 and June 23, 2016.
In all, agents said they were aware of at least 15 firearms he bought in 2019 alone and Washington told them he had trafficked firearms across state lines and to other countries since April 20, 2016. Washington told investigators that he's sold guns to out-of-state buyers since 2016 after watching a documentary film about firearms trafficking. He won’t tell investigators who he was contacted by but did say he used a burner phone discarded in a trash bin in the Loveman Village public housing community on July 19. That was after agents first spoke with him. He led agents to the trash bin, but it was empty.
He also told them he had shredded mail, parcel receipts, firearms purchase and sale documentation and other records after ATF agents contacted him. Washington did not tell them with whom he brokered deals, but admitted to using FedEx, with phony names and no return addresses, to ship packages to California and New York.
Court records show agents searched multiple houses in Birmingham as part of their investigation into Washington’s activities. They found letters Washington had mailed to Moussaoui at the Federal ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. where he is serving six life sentences without parole. The letters were returned to Washington. The texts of the letters were basically conversational in which Washington asked Moussaoui questions on a variety of topics ranging from what food he eats to his pilot’s license. He asked Moussaoui about flight simulators and told him he had bought his first drone. He also referenced a mosque and asked “Where (sic) you able to learn a lot from our Muslim brothers?” Washington’s family said he is Baptist and regularly attended church before his detention by federal authorities.
Other items seized by the investigators during the searches included a journal kept by Washington with steps to building an improvised explosive device, as well as manuals on how to build IEDs and military-grade suppressors.
In a text order detaining Washington, Ott deemed the evidence against Washington to be substantial. “He has made incriminating statements and continued his illegal conduct after being approached by law enforcement,’’ Ott wrote. “Evidence seized following execution of a search warrant also shows he was involved in other illegal activities, including drug trafficking. He has been implicated in robberies in the Birmingham, Alabama area.”
Court records show Washington was arrested by Vestavia Hills police in 2016 on a weapons violation after police say a masked Washington and another man were armed in a vehicle on Columbiana Road. Washington was jailed on June 30, 2018 in Jefferson County, and held for another law enforcement agency on the military desertion charges. The disposition of both the cases wasn’t immediately available but Ott noted he received a discharge from the military that was other than honorable.
Washington’s family declined to comment but said they are surprised at the charges against him.