Hamas Arms Maker Ross Roggio Gets 70 Years in Prison for Torture

ross roggio

In a secret recording produced at trial, Ross Roggio, an international arms dealer and con artist from Pennsylvania, spat defiance towards the federal agents investigating him. “They can fucking arrest me and torture me till the day they die,” he said. 

The federal prison system is about to get a chance to do just that. Roggio, 55, was convicted of money laundering, wire fraud, arms smuggling, and torture last May. On Monday, he was sentenced by a federal judge to serve 70 years in prison — effectively a life sentence. 

A “serial fraudster,” according to federal prosecutors, Roggio’s schemes were profiled in depth by Rolling Stone last year. He shook down Haitian earthquake victims and duped U.S. special forces veterans, but his crowning achievement, and downfall, was conning Polad Talabani, a Kurdish counterterrorism official who had contracted him to build an illegal weapons factory in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq. Weapons made at Roggio’s factory ended up in the hands of militant groups, including Hamas. 

Roggio convinced Talabani — whose brother, Lahur, was then co-president and intelligence chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, (PUK), the party that rules Sulaymaniyah — that he could deliver a factory that produced thousands of M4 rifles and Glock-style pistols. 

He was given command of a company of Kurdish soldiers, and Talabani’s associates funneled him tens of millions of dollars. By 2016, in a warehouse located near the PUK headquarters of Qala Chwalan, a village north of Sulaymaniyah, Roggio was producing prototype weapons. But according to federal prosecutors, Roggio was secretly “purchasing sub-quality machines for the project that were incapable of manufacturing the type and number of weapons promised.” 

Instead, Roggio, who was on an annual salary of $1.4 million, embezzled millions more from the project to buy sports cars and Rolex watches.

“When Roggio began feeling pressure from Kurdish officials to start showing results, he elected to export from the United States to Iraq components that were essential to mass-producing these weapons,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo. 

But he had another problem: Roggio believed one of his employees, an Estonian named Siim Saar, might tell his Kurdish bosses that he was stealing from them. Using the soldiers under his command, Roggio abducted Saar, and, for 39 days, held him on the site of a shuttered U.S. State Department facility in Sulaymaniyah and tortured him. “Kurdish officials still trusted Roggio, were unaware of the fraud, and believed Roggio when he said Saar had been misbehaving and needed to be taught a lesson,” prosecutors said. 

Roggio led interrogations where soldiers choked, beat, and tased Saar until he bled. In legal documents, Roggio claimed the taser “contained very little force.” But Saar and his colleagues were deeply traumatized. Roggio bragged on secret recordings that what he did to Saar showed “the overwhelming ability of mine to crush somebody.”

Cody McBride, a former U.S. government interrogator who served as an expert witness for prosecutors during Roggio’s trial and spoke about it on the TrapDraw podcast, said Roggio tried to suggest his Kurdish torture factility was a CIA blacksite and he tortured Saar on orders from the agency. Roggio’s lawyer was trying to give the impression that “he’s not Jason Bourne, but he’s like a guy that would help Jason Bourne,” said McBride.

“Roggio falsely told FBI and Homeland Security Investigations agents that he had been working for the CIA in Kurdistan,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memo. 

Neither torture nor fake CIA connections were enough to conceal Roggio’s embezzling forever. “Auditors just showed up,” Roggio texted Talabani in November 2016. “Lol.” The Kurds accused Roggio of stealing $4 million. Roggio was put under house arrest in Sulaymaniyah. 

Without Roggio stealing from it, the factory project got back on track. Weapons were manufactured and sold on the Iraqi and Syrian black markets under two ghost brands, Delta Defence Group and Eagle Firearms. Some of these weapons have found their way into the hands of militant groups, including Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Kurdistan Free Life Party, both sanctioned as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

Israeli police confiscate a Delta Defence Group pistol

Other weapons ended up in the hands of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that broke out of Gaza on October 7, killing nearly 700 civilians. A photo of Hamas Deputy Chairman, Saleh al-Arouri, shortly before he was assassinated by Israel in Beirut in January, shows him posing with a Delta Defence rifle. 

Thanks to Roggio’s factory, thousands of guns spread through middle eastern war zones. Production only stopped after the factory was seized by Talabani’s political rivals in 2021.

While the guns contributed to regional instability, Roggio himself was causing chaos in Sulaymaniyah. Without repaying the Kurds, he made a successful bid for freedom, escaping house arrest by climbing out of the window of his penthouse apartment and scaling the building, before escaping the city and later Iraqi Kurdistan. 

Back in the United States, Roggio was indicted in March 2018. He is only the second American ever to be convicted for torture. “We are pleased that someone who committed horrible crimes in our country has been served his due punishment,” a Kurdish government official told Rolling Stone.


He left a trail of pain behind him. “I think it was fair,” Saar says about the sentence, in an email to Rolling Stone. “Mr. Roggio to this day does not seem to understand what exactly he did and won’t take responsibility for it.”

Roggio’s “defining characteristic is his willingness to sacrifice others to serve his own interests,” prosecutors said. Now, for the rest of his life, Roggio is going to pay for his actions himself.

Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/ross-roggio-prison-arms-fraud-torture-1235006441/

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