LOS ANGELES — Three Philippine nationals caught in a sting operation in their native country were convicted Monday of importing military-grade weapons to the United States in a case that earned international attention last year because of a defense lawyer's contention that an undercover FBI agent spent U.S. taxpayer dollars on prostitutes.
After a four-week trial, a federal jury in Los Angeles convicted Sergio Syjuco, 26, Cesar Ubaldo, 27, and Arjyl Revereza, 26, of conspiring to illegally import the weapons and aiding and abetting their importation to the U.S.
Each of the men could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison and fined $1 million or more. They're scheduled to be sentenced June 9.
In late 2010, Ubaldo began meeting an FBI agent who was posing as a prospective buyer of high-powered weapons for U.S. and Mexican drug cartels, according to evidence presented at trial.
Prosecutors said Ubaldo introduced the agent to Syjuco, who supplied the weapons, and Revereza, an officer in the Philippines Bureau of Customs who facilitated the movement of the weapons between the Philippines and the U.S.
The men were indicted after authorities seized weapons at the Port of Long Beach in California in June 2011. The weapons seized included a grenade launcher, a mortar launcher and 12 machine guns.
Before the trial began, Syjuco's attorney John Littrell alleged that the undercover FBI agent spent U.S. taxpayer dollars on prostitutes in the Philippines for himself and others during the investigation, and asked that the charges be thrown out because of the misconduct. The motion was denied.
Prosecutors acknowledged the agent sought nearly $15,000 in reimbursements for "entertainment" and other expenses.
But Littrell said in court documents that two clubs where the men met were suspected brothels, one of which was raided in May by Philippine authorities, with dozens of victims of sex trafficking rescued, some of them under-aged girls.
The agent, whose name was not made public, vehemently denied this, saying he never paid to have sex or knowingly paid a bill that included prostitution.
Bill Lewis, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, said in a statement Monday that the verdict vindicated the agent's work.
"The undercover case agent assigned to this investigation and his family endured true hardship during this lengthy trial, during which he was accused of unfounded illegal activity," Lewis said. "It's clear the jury weighed the evidence in reaching a guilty verdict, and not theories put forth by the defense."