ALBANY – Three members of the 109th Air National Guard in Glenville have admitted to two separate schemes to smuggle firearms parts into the United States on military aircraft, U.S. Attorney’s officials said Wednesday.
One scheme involved two silencers and two of the guard members, the other involved a silencer and a threaded blackout barrel and involved the other guard member, officials said.
The discovery of both schemes appeared to come after one of the co-conspirators placed the two silencers in the wrong bag for the flight, according to a plea agreement.
Arrested and sentenced were Master Sgt. Kevin Ronca, 41, of Amsterdam; Technical Sgt. Joseph R. Paludi, 34, of Schenectady and Technical Sgt. Timothy R. Schmitt, 28, of Galway, federal prosecutors said.
All three have since pleaded guilty to related offenses, officials said. Ronca received three years of probation and three months of home detention in October, while Paludi received two years of probation in November. Schmitt was sentenced Wednesday to two years of probation. All three received fines.
The two investigations began with the Ronca and Paludi case in March 2018, according to Ronca’s plea agreement.
That’s when another, uninvolved guard member checked his bag after returning to Stratton Air Base with Paludi and found the two firearm silencers. The member then turned them in to his commanding officer, the plea agreement reads.
Investigators eventually learned that, sometime between Dec. 31, 2017 and Jan. 14, 2018, Ronca asked Paludi to smuggle the silencers he had purchased abroad back to Stratton. Ronca was returning via commercial flight and his possessions were likely to be searched, but Paludi’s possessions, on a military aircraft, were not likely to be searched, Ronca knew, according to his plea agreement.
Paludi agreed to bring the silencers back from New Zealand. Upon returning, Paludi would return them to Ronca.
But then came the mix-up, the plea agreement reads.
“At some point during the return trip to the United States, Paludi accidentally placed the two firearm silencers into a bag belonging to Individual 1,” the agreement reads.
“Individual 1” then later discovered them and reported them, the agreement reads.
Both Ronca and Paludi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import firearms.
Schmitt’s case then followed Paludi and Ronca.
During a deployment outside the U.S., Schmitt obtained a silencer and a threaded blackout barrel, his plea agreement reads, and he then returned them home himself aboard a military aircraft.
At some point he became aware that other members of the 109th were being investigated for smuggling similar items and Schmitt responded by taking the silencer and burying it on his property in Galway, his plea agreement reads. Then, on Feb. 15, 2019, he led agents to the buried silencer, where they recovered it, his agreement reads.
Schmitt pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm.