HEMET: Marine convicted of possessing Iraqi machine gun
A disgraced former career U.S. Marine from Hemet is facing four years in federal prison for smuggling a machine gun into the country from Iraq, where he served in combat, a prosecutor said Tuesday.
Joel Cleve Miller, 40, was convicted Friday of illegally possessing an automatic weapon —- an AK-47 that he told friends had once been used by Saddam Hussein’s royal guard.
Miller’s conviction makes him eligible for a maximum sentence of 10 years behind bars. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Merrill said the sentencing guidelines are such that the defendant will probably receive about half that time when he’s sentenced Sept. 27 in U.S. District Court in Riverside.
Miller, a 20-year Marine veteran drummed out of the service in December for falsifying travel records, was originally charged with three felony counts of possessing machine guns. After a four-day trial, jurors acquitted him of two charges, finding him guilty of one.
“The reason we so aggressively go after and prosecute these cases is because these guns have a tendency to fall into the hands of the wrong people,” Merrill said. “We have seen these guns used in shootings.”
Miller is free on bond and staying in Twentynine Palms, where he was last stationed while on active duty.
According to court records, while serving on a 14-month combat tour in Iraq that ended in November 2005, the defendant got hold of a chrome-plated AK-47, an MP-5 submachine gun and an FAL automatic rifle.
The weapons were loaded into a sea bag, thrown onto a plane and sent to the U.S. after the Marine finished his overseas deployment, according to the prosecution’s trial brief. Customs officials apparently did not spot them.
Miller sold one gun to a friend for $500 and gave the other one away to a fellow Marine, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
When Miller and his wife divorced in 2007, she contacted Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents and informed them that her ex-husband had left the firearms at her Hemet home and she wanted them removed, according to court documents.
NCIS investigators and a Hemet police officer seized the AK-47, leading to charges against Miller.
The dishonorably discharged Marine attained the rank of staff sergeant and fought in several engagements, including one of the battles to retake Fallujah from insurgents, according to witnesses who testified at his trial.
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