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Ex-Marine Gets Two Years For Smuggling Gun Out Of Iraq

Joel Cleve Miller
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Above: Joel Cleve Miller

An ex-Marine from Hemet who smuggled a machine gun into the country from Iraq, where he served in combat, was handed a two-year federal prison sentence Thursday.

Joel Cleve Miller, 40, was convicted in June of illegally possessing an automatic weapon — an AK-47 that he told friends had once been used by Saddam Hussein’s royal guard.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had sought a minimum five-year sentence for the former staff sergeant, but U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips imposed the lesser term based on his lack of criminal history.

She also granted him a two-month delay in surrendering to begin serving his sentence so that he could put his affairs in order.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Merrill, who prosecuted the case with colleague Allen Chiu, told City News Service they hoped the verdict would send a message to anyone thinking about illegally storing automatic firearms.

“The most important thing is the deterrent effect,” Merrill said. “These are very dangerous weapons. No matter why or how you possess them, having them puts the community at risk.”

Miller, a 20-year serviceman drummed out of the Marine Corps in December for falsifying travel records, was originally charged with three felony counts of possessing machine guns. But after a four-day trial, jurors acquitted him of two charges, finding him guilty of illegally possessing the one rifle.

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, as well as other items, 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 sentencing memorandum. Customs officials apparently did not spot them.

Miller sold one gun to a friend for around $500 and gave the other one away to a fellow Marine, according to the prosecution.

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 — including a Glock pistol and a live smoke grenade — at her Hemet home and she wanted them gone, according to court documents.

NCIS investigators and a Hemet police officer seized the items, leading to charges against Miller.

The dishonorably discharged Marine, who now resides in Twentynine Palms, fought in several engagements, including one of the battles to retake Fallujah from insurgents, according to witnesses at his trial.

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