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Ex-Marine guilty of smuggling AK-47, possibly from Hussein's guards

A former U.S. Marine from Southern California could face up to 10 years in federal prison after being convicted of illegal possession of a chrome-plated AK-47 machine gun that authorities say he smuggled back from a tour of duty in Iraq and may have belonged to Saddam Hussein’s guards.

A federal jury in Riverside on Friday found Joel Cleve Miller, 40, of Twentynine Palms, guilty of one gun charge but acquitted him of two others involving another weapon, according to Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Merrill.

Miller’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 27 in U.S. District Court in Riverside.

Miller was an active member of the Marine Corps for more than 20 years, reaching the rank of staff sergeant, before being discharged in December 2011 for approving false travel claims and stealing from the federal government, prosecutors said. His weapon possession conviction is part of a wider probe into gun smuggling from Iraq that previously led to a guilty plea from another former Marine and may lead to other cases, according to Merrill.

“One of the biggest problems with these kinds of guns is that if they hit the streets and get into the wrong hands, they are incredibly dangerous,” Merrill said. Even if a former U.S. military officer just wants one for a private collection, word may get out to criminals who then try to steal the weapon, he said.

Witnesses at his trial testified that Miller, who returned from Iraq in 2005, told them the AK-47 once belonged to a special guard of the now-deposed Iraqi dictator.

Miller’s attorney in the federal public defender’s office could not be reached for immediate comment about the case.

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-- Larry Gordon

 
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