A man who tried to sell an unmanned military drone on EBay is scheduled to plead guilty in U.S. District Court Thursday to violating arms export and smuggling laws, according to court filings.
Henson Chua of Manila, Philippines, was arrested in February after Homeland Security officials said he shipped a 3-foot-long, hand-launched, computer-controlled RQ-11A/B Raven to undercover agents.
Chua faces up to 20 years in prison, but likely far less under federal sentencing guidelines.
According to Chua's signed plea agreement, Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base contacted the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in May 2010 after seeing the drone listed for sale for $13,000 on the Internet auction site.
Through a bar code visible on one of the photographs posted on the site, SOCOM identified the vehicle as belonging to the command. At the same time the Tampa investigation began, Homeland Security agents in Los Angeles began their own independent probe.
Chua said he was representing the owner, who had purchased it at a Philippine government auction as abandoned property, according to an arrest affidavit.
The agents told Chua they were acting on behalf of a Russian buyer, authorities said
While undercover agents were negotiating the sale, EBay removed the item from the site because it violated policies relating to the sale of military items, according to the plea agreement.
Tampa agents continued to communicate with Chua by phone and email, and discussed difficulties with obtaining the proper paperwork. According to the plea agreement, the sale was consummated last August, even though the proper permits were never obtained.
Using Pay Pal, the agents sent Chua the money, and Chua sent the drone in two parts, first the fuselage and then the nose cone. Then, for unspecified reasons, Chua came to the U.S. in February and was arrested.