The international security contractor formerly known as Blackwater has agreed to pay a $7.5 million fine to settle federal criminal charges related to arms smuggling and other crimes.
Documents unsealed Aug. 7 in a U.S. District Court in North Carolina said the company, now called Academi LLC, agreed to pay the fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement to settle 17 violations.
The list of violations includes possessing automatic weapons in the United States without registration, lying to federal firearms regulators about weapons provided to the king of Jordan, passing secret plans for armored personnel carriers to Sweden and Denmark without U.S. government approval and illegally shipping body armor overseas.
Federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents said the company, which has held billions in U.S. security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, repeatedly flouted U.S. laws.
“Compliance with these laws is critical to the proper conduct of our defense efforts and to international diplomatic relations,” said Thomas G. Walker, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “This prosecution is an important step to ensuring that our corporate citizens comply with these rules in every circumstance.”
Blackwater was founded in 1997 in Moyock, N.C., by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, but the company rose to national attention after winning massive no-bid security contracts from U.S. government at the beginning of the Iraq War.
In 2004, Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed two SUVs, killing the four armed Blackwater contractors and hanging their bodies from a bridge. In 2007, Blackwater contractors guarding a U.S. State Department convoy in Baghdad opened fire on civilian vehicles in an intersection, mistakenly thinking they were under attack. Seventeen Iraqis died.
In 2010, the company reached a $42 million settlement with the Department of State as part of a settlement of violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations.
The company changed its name to Xe before being sold in 2011, becoming Academi.
Documents unsealed in federal court Thursday say prosecutors brought 17 criminal charges against Academi following a 5-year investigation.
Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, the company acknowledged “responsibility for the conduct” in the 17 alleged violations and settles all charges with the government in exchange for payment of the $7.5 million fine and assurances the company will reform its conduct. The agreement also requires future monitoring and audits for full compliance with federal firearms laws.
In a statement issued immediately after the settlement was made public, however, Academi officials denied they admitted any guilt for what was termed a “legacy matter.”
“The agreement, which does not involve any guilty plea or admit to any violations, reflects the significant and tangible efforts that Academi’s new ownership and leadership team have made,” the statement said. “The company is fully committed to this agreement and looks forward to successfully fulfilling its obligations on this legacy matter as we continue to lead by example in our regulatory and compliance efforts.”
Academi spokesman John Procter later clarified the company’s position.
“There is a distinction between an admission of events taking place and an admission of guilt,” he said.
A clause in Academi’s settlement with prosecutors bars the company from making any public statements “contradicting any aspect” of the agreement. Any such statement could allow the government to nullify the settlement, the agreement says.
Justice Department spokeswoman Robin G. Zier declined to comment Aug. 9 on whether Academi’s media release violated the terms of the settlement.
The first two criminal counts unsealed Aug. 7 allege Blackwater illegally exported encrypted satellite phones to Sudan in 2005. Counts three through six involve numerous arms exporting and trafficking violations, including providing a security services and a threat assessment to Sudan, providing military training to Canadian military and law enforcement personnel without a required U.S. license.
The company is also alleged to have provided technical and engineering data relating to the construction of armored personnel carriers to Sweden and Denmark from 2006 to 2008 without required State Department authorization. In 2004 and 2006, the company exported ammunition and body armor to Iraq and Afghanistan without first obtaining a U.S. government license, according to the documents.
Counts seven through 12 allege violations of various federal firearms laws as the result of the company’s possession of unregistered automatic weapons at its rural North Carolina training facility. Counts 13 through 17 allege involve a Bushmaster M4 carbine, three Glock handguns and a Remington shotgun given as a gift to Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his traveling entourage during a 2005 visit to Moyock.
“For an extended period of time, Academi/Blackwater operated in a manner which demonstrated systemic disregard for U.S. Government laws and regulations,” said Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Division of the FBI. “Today’s announcement should serve as a warning to others that allegations of wrongdoing will be aggressively investigated.”