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U.S. woman used as patsy in smuggling military hardware to Russia

RIA Novosti

07:26 03/08/2010

MOSCOW, August 3 (RIA Novosti) - A U.S. woman is suspected of smuggling military hardware to Russia, although she firmly believes she was sending humanitarian aid to Russian orphans, ABC News.com reported.

The 44-year-old woman from Wisconsin found a packaging job on the Internet that involved changing packaging and address labels on parcels she received. The parcels contained sniper scopes, night-vision goggles and military gear, although she says she thought she was helping send clothing to Russian orphans.

"If 'ABC Arms Dealer' in California sends a package with a rifle scope directly to Russia that is going to raise a red flag and likely get stopped and searched. But a package being sent from a private citizen in Wisconsin might not get searched. That's why they were using her," ABC News.com quoted Capt. Bill Wallner of the Ripon Police Department, as saying.

All sensitive equipment was purchased in the United States using stolen credit cards. Police were tipped off about the scheme after an arms dealer in Iowa got suspicious about a discrepancy between the billing address and the shipping address on a purchased $1,600 rifle scope.

Police established that the woman was receiving several packages a day for weeks and was paid $30 for each shipped parcel. After police obtained a search warrant and examined the woman's house they found 20 packages waiting to be mailed containing rifle and sniper scopes, night vision equipment, GPS units and camouflage clothing, worth a total of $15,500.

Police believe the woman was probably just an unwitting participant in the scheme and probably will not be charged.

"She's been very cooperative. We seized her computer and the messages she received, verified everything she told us. When we came knocking on her door, she was very surprised. She was pretty devastated about it and couldn't believe she'd been sucked in," Capt. Bill Walner continued.

She told the police that she was hired by the company, which called itself Switzerland Watches, and was always communicated via e-mail. She was permitted to open the first five packages, which according to her, contained items like diapers and baby clothing, but was prohibited to open the rest of the packages.

Police, who handed over the investigation of the case to the FBI, said the packages were shipped to different addresses in Novorossiisk, a port city on the Black Sea in Russia's Krasnodar Territory.

"We are looking into the matter. Time will tell how big this is," ABC News.com quoted Monica Shipley, a spokeswoman in the Milwaukee FBI field office, as saying.

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