A Florida man reputed to be the biggest weapons dealer in Brazil pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiring to smuggle hundreds of assault-style rifles and other firearms hidden in water heaters from Miami to Rio de Janeiro.
Frederik Barbieri, 47, who was arrested at his home in Port St. Lucie in February, admitted in Miami federal court that he shipped assault-style rifles with obliterated serial numbers to Brazil, including a major load that was confiscated at Rio de Janeiro's airport a year ago.
Barbieri, who was born in Brazil and became a naturalized U.S. citizen, faces up to 25 years in prison on two charges, conspiracy to smuggle weapons to a foreign country and violations of firearm export licensing laws. His sentencing is set for July 19 before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno.
Barbieri, though charged alone with illegally exporting weaponry to violent gangs and drug traffickers in Brazil, did not act by himself. He is cooperating with federal authorities by providing information about six others who were in his organization, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Shack. The prosecutor said Barbieri could be sentenced from 14 to 17 years in prison under federal guidelines if the judge goes along with that range.
But Barbieri's defense attorney, Leonard Fenn, said Barbieri oversaw only three others in his network and that he should be sentenced from six to seven years in prison under lower federal guidelines.
A year ago, one of Barbieri's shipments was intercepted at Rio de Janeiro's airport by Brazilian authorities. They found 30 AR-15 and AK-47 rifles, along with firearm magazines, all hidden in four 38-gallon Rheem water heaters, according to federal prosecutors.
"The water heaters were hollowed out and loaded with the contraband, and the serial numbers on each of the firearms had been obliterated," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. "The same day (May 26, 2017) that Brazilian authorities intercepted his shipment, Barbieri called and requested that the freight forwarder destroy the related paperwork."
Federal agents said they obtained documents from the freight forwarder showing a history of Barbieri's suspicious shipments to Rio de Janeiro. Barbieri had also shipped an additional 120 Rheem water heaters, as well as 520 electric motors and 15 air-conditioning units, over the previous five years. Agents suspected these items were used to conceal Barbieri's illegal shipments of firearms and ammunition dating back to 2013.
On Tuesday, Shack, the prosecutor, said that because it is illegal for Brazilians to possess firearms, assault-style rifles have a black market value of $15,000 to $20,000. In the United States, the retail cost of an AR-15 or AK-47 rifle runs between $700 and $1,000 each.
When agents with the Department of Homeland Security Investigations searched Barbieri's warehouse in Vero Beach in February, they found 52 assault-type rifles, almost all of which had obliterated serial numbers and were wrapped for shipment. In addition, agents said they found dozens of high-capacity firearm magazines, more than 2,000 rounds of ammunition and packaging materials.
The following day, Barbieri was arrested at his home in Port St. Lucie. Barbieri, who is being held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami, told the judge Tuesday that he is married and has a young child.