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thedrifter
06-03-08, 07:24 AM
Marine takes plea deal in Iraq war trophy case
By Chelsea J. Carter - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jun 2, 2008 17:24:59 EDT

SAN DIEGO — A Marine sergeant accused of bringing an AK47 assault rifle home from Iraq as a war trophy accepted a plea deal Monday that will keep him out of federal prison.

Sgt. Leonardo San Juan agreed to plead guilty to one felony count of possession of an unregistered firearm and pay a $100 fine, said his attorney, Joseph Low.

San Juan accepted the deal shortly before jury selection was set to begin. A judge still must approve the deal.

San Juan was accused of bringing the AK47 back with him more than two years ago from Iraq, according to a grand jury indictment filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego.

“If you believe the allegation, all it is is a war trophy,” Low said. “It’s not like he went out and committed a crime, shot it or had ammo in it.”

San Juan, 31, of El Paso, Texas, had faced up to three years in prison and a discharge from the Marine Corps. It is unclear whether the plea deal will affect his career.

War trophies, per se, are not illegal for troops to bring home. But they must be approved by U.S. Central Command, which oversees troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, before they are brought into the U.S.

In recent years, a handful of troops have been prosecuted for possessing war trophies, such as antiques and weapons.

The case against San Juan began June 25, 2006, when his fiancée went to a gun range to learn how to shoot his .45 caliber handgun. A gun range safety officer attempted to show her how to use it but she struggled with the gun’s slide and safety. When asked if she had access to another weapon that might be easier to use, she allegedly said she had “AKs in her garage,” the indictment said.

The gun range safety officer then contacted law enforcement officials, who subsequently searched the garage and found the rifle stored in a plastic bin. It was later turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for testing.

ATF agents, according to the indictment, traced the AK47 from its manufacturer in Bulgaria to its distribution to the Iraqi National Force.

Because the rifle is a fully functional automatic weapon, prosecutors had to apply for a special waiver to bring the weapon to court to use as an exhibit in the case, according to court records.

Ellie