By | January 5, 2024

Were international arms trafficking operations happening in Rutherford County, N.C. in plain sight?

A number of legal documents – including several formerly-sealed affidavits from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms – were recently attained by Foothills Catalyst that describe a shocking international weapons trafficking operation that was hiding in plain sight in the middle of Rutherford County.  Hundreds of thousands of military grade assault rifles and equipment were being manufactured and shipped from a facility located in the middle of Spindale, N.C. to governments and militias across the world beginning as early as 2011.

Press_Release_Manroy_1_29_13

As described below, our 2011 local officials, (CHAIRMAN BILL ECKLER, VICE CHAIRMAN JULIUS OWENS, SUSAN CROWE, EDDIE HOLLAND, ROGER RICHARD), quietly approved this operation despite a litany of pending federal criminal investigations involving this operation, and  additional federal investigations and criminal charges that followed that were not revealed in public.

minutes 2011

LOCAL OFFICIALS WELCOME INTERNATIONAL WEAPONS MANUFACTURING OPERATION

In 2002, Guy Savage formed Sabre Defense Industries LLC in Nashville, TN to manufacture and sell weapons to the United States government, foreign governments, and military groups.  By 2011, Sabre was under investigation for illegal arms trafficking to foreign governments (with claims that weapons were being sold to terrorist organizations that were hostile toward the United States and our allies).  In an effort to sidestep those investigations and continue with its lucrative arms sales business, Sabre created and transferred all of its assets to two other companies, i.e., Manroy USA, LLC and Diamond Tactical LLLP.

As this was happening, Manroy entered into discussions with local officials in Rutherford County and Spindale who authorized Manroy to establish – and fund – a new manufacturing plant at 159 Yelton Street, Spindale, NC to facilitate Manroy (and some of Diamondback’s) operations.

In a 2011 press release from the Rutherford County Economic Development Commission, local officials described the level of involvement the county would have in the training, staffing, and recruitment to support this project:

“Diamondback Tactical is moving its manufacturing business within Rutherford County, making way for Manroy USA to occupy the Yelton Street building.

Manroy USA bought the plant in Spindale in August, and company officials want to be in Rutherford County in early fall to start doing business. Diamondback was leasing the building on Yelton Street.”

“Diamondback officials will work with Isothermal Community College and Isothermal Planning Development Commission’s workforce program to train and recruit workers. Applications for the jobs at Diamondback are being received at the plant in Spindale and through the Employment Security Commission on Trade Street in Forest City.”

2013 Rutherford Economic Development Press Release

Initially, Manroy had received authorization from both the President of the United States and the Department of Defense to conduct its operations.  However, in 2013, the U.S. government withdrew permission for Manroy to sell weapons to several countries, such as Bahrain and East Timor, stating that “it is not in the Foreign Policy/National Security Interests of the USG to approve this license at this time.”  Instead of complying, Manroy continued selling weapons to those countries (along with other countries and individuals), but attempted to conceal their actions.

Although those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, Rutherford County officials continued investing significant tax dollars into promoting and expanding Manroy’s business operations.

FEDERAL AGENTS DISCOVERY AND PROSECUTE INDIVIDUALS FOR INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRAFFICKING OPERATION IN SPINDALE

By late 2013, multiple federal law enforcement agencies were surveilling Manroy, its owners, and its employees.  In doing so, agents quickly discovered that Manroy was unlawfully trafficking weapons to hostile countries (and militia groups) and attempting to conceal these actions and avoid prosecution by utilizing many of the same tactics that had been employed by Sabre in Nashville.  Those efforts involved, for example, fabricating and destroying records, selling entire weapons in a disassembled form in an attempt to skirt laws and regulations, creating new entities to make the sales (which county officials also promoted through various means, including financial assistance), etc.

By 2015, federal prosecutors began filing criminal charges for illegal arms trafficking against a tremendous number of individuals across the country and locally, including individuals who worked in the Spindale plant and the county.  Some of those charges resulted in quick convictions, while others took until the early 2020s to conclude.

The unlawful activities and criminal charges that followed resulted in the closure and asset liquidation of Sabre, Manroy, and several large international weapons manufacturers that made waves throughout the entire arms industry.

MANY QUESTIONS, BUT FEW ANSWERS

While there are many facets of this story, one of the most puzzling aspects is how weapons were being manufactured in and unlawfully trafficked from Spindale to governments and militia groups across the world with virtually no one in Rutherford County having any knowledge of what was occurring.  An equally concerning question is whether our local officials were aware of the federal investigations and unlawful activities involved with Sabre before agreeing to assist Manroy in setting up their operations in Spindale, and whether (and when) they knew that these same activities occurred here.

Perhaps the most important question, however, is what capital investments, tax breaks, and other incentives were provided by our local government, and what financial costs were incurred by the county and its citizens, to fund this unlawful operation.

Because no reference has been found to date on this situation in any of the past County Commission’s minutes, these questions remain unanswered.  However, in light of the current Commissioners’ recent (and puzzling) insistence that Rutherford County is unable or unwilling to fund a growing list of basic services needed by the community, this past situation (along with the substantial financial investments associated with it) raises serious concerns regarding transparency that must be explained.  Given the magnitude of what transpired – and never disclosed – here, it is difficult to envision any realistic way to understand the state of our county’s finances, the candor of our current representatives, or to have any hope of rebuilding trust in our elected officials without initiating a full and independent audit.

Additionally, the funding of our Economic Development Commission should be scrutinized.

Until then, Foothills Catalyst will report on additional information regarding these matters as it becomes available.