A Russian citizen described as a gun developer for Kalashnikov Concern, that country’s famed maker of assault rifles and a company under U.S. sanctions, is expected to plead guilty to a federal charge of attempting to violate U.S. export controls, according to court filings.
Evgeny Viktorovich Spiridonov, 39, of Moscow, was arrested Jan. 27 at Los Angeles International Airport after leaving a major gun show in Las Vegas and attempting to board a flight for the Russian capital, according to court records.
He had ordered a $2,400 restricted advanced tactical rifle scope from a Pennsylvania gun dealer, according to the filings. U.S. investigators learned of the sale from the dealer and interceded, staging a controlled delivery of the scope to Spiridonov’s Las Vegas hotel, the filings said.
Surveillance video showed Spiridonov accepting the shipment at the front desk. Agents then followed him as he ate breakfast, left for Los Angeles and checked his bags with the scope inside for his Aeroflot flight home, federal investigators said.
Spiridonov is accused of failing to file or submitting false or misleading export information. Exporting the restricted rifle scope without a U.S. export license is punishable by up to five years in prison.
A photo of Spiridonov accepting the hotel delivery is among exhibits filed in federal court in Los Angeles after Commerce Department investigators, who enforce export licensing rules, obtained a warrant in Washington.
Federal prosecutors in Washington this week released a criminal information in the case — a type of charging document used only with a defendant’s consent and that signals a plea deal has been reached. A plea is not final until a judge accepts it, and defendants can change their minds.
An attorney for Spiridonov, Stewart J. Powell of Los Angeles, said Thursday that his client had cooperated with the government “in every respect,” adding, “I think we’re going to have a speedy resolution.”
“He has no military ties, he was formerly a medical doctor, and now he’s a hunter,” Powell said. “He just happens to be a Russian citizen, who has nothing to do with any” other controversies involving Russian entities under U.S. sanctions or investigation.
In court filings, prosecutors cite Spiridonov’s social media posts, in which he identifies himself as director of special projects with Kalashnikov. He also has been described online by other firearms industry commentators as a brand manager for the firm’s hunting guns.
However, Spiridonov told investigators he has a looser affiliation with the company, prosecutors said. As part of his attorney’s unsuccessful attempt to have his client released on bond, the lawyer filed an undated one-page letter from Kalashnikov defining Spiridonov’s relationship. In the letter, the company stated that Spiridonov “is not a regular employee” of Kalashnikov Concern “and can not be referred [sic] as a representative of the company.”
Instead, a company manager named Oleg Ivanov wrote, “Kalashnikov Concern would like to confirm that Mr. Evgeniy [sic] Spiridonov as a member of [Safari Club International] is occasionally invited to participate in the testing and development of the hunting guns” under the company’s Baikal brand, “with certain compensation under temporary contracts.”
In a statement Friday, Kalashnikov’s press office added: “Evgeniy Spiridonov was involved as a recognized expert for projects related to hunting and civilian hunting weapons on the temporary basis. . . . We have no idea on the reasons and details of his trip to the US.”
Spiridonov has been a member of Safari Club International since 2012 and of the National Rifle Association since 2015, according to materials filed by his attorney. Powell also filed documents and photographs that he said corroborate his client’s status as a professional hunter and consultant.
Stephen Comus, communications director for Safari Club International, a 45,000-member hunting-advocacy group based in Tucson, said, “That’s goofy, we don’t have any arrangement with Kalashnikov at all.”
Comus added, however, that the club “has no idea” whether its members have commercial relationships with Kalashnikov or whether Spiridonov’s described role with the firm was dependent on his club membership.
According to investigators’ accounts in the case filings, a Pennsylvania gun dealer took the order for the scope and tipped off investigators.
“Evgeny I am working on getting your order together. With the shooting happened [sic] in Las Vegas this year I am nervous about sending your order to the hotel,” the gun dealer wrote in a Jan. 4 email cited by investigators. The incident referred to was the October mass shooting that killed dozens and injured hundreds when a gunman fired from his Las Vegas hotel room into a music festival.
“I having [sic] problems sir because items require license,” the seller added in a Jan. 18 WhatsApp text message viewed by agents who went on to track Spiridonov’s stay at the 2018 SHOT show, court records show.
“Are you worried because of riflescope? This is not a problem — I’ll take it without the box. And remove the serial number,” came Spiridonov’s reply, according to investigators’ accusations, which said the exchange continued, “If you ask me where I got it — I will say that he [sic] bought it at the pawn shop.”
The dealer reported Spiridonov’s interest to authorities and is facing sentencing after a guilty plea on a similar export violation with another Russian buyer, investigators said.
A warrant was issued for Spiridonov’s arrest in Washington on Jan. 27 after U.S. customs and export investigators alleged in a complaint that he had attempted to buy ammunition and the rifle scope.
Without Spiridonov’s knowledge, U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents, not the dealer, bought the rifle scope and shipped it to the hotel.
Two law enforcement agents were aboard Spiridonov’s flight, and Customs and Border Protection agents confirmed that the scope was in his bag and that he was carrying more than 300 rounds of ammunition, wrote Special Agent Jason Seltzer of the Commerce Department’s Office of Export Enforcement.
Kalashnikov, based in Moscow, is Russia’s largest small-arms manufacturer and the maker of its famed AK-47 and other assault and sniper rifles, grenade launchers, guided-artillery projectiles and aircraft cannons.
The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the company in 2014 and 2015 in response to Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine. The arms maker responded by rebranding itself to hobbyists and hunters while also stepping up military sales to other countries.
Spiridonov is due in court March 28 in Los Angeles, where U.S. prosecutors in Washington have moved to transfer his case.