A federal jury today found Cenon Rey Avelino guilty on four criminal counts and innocent of five others, including the most serious charges, in connection with his sale last year of two Vietnam War fighter jets.
After more than 21 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted Avelino, 41, of two counts of filing false statements with the government and two counts of illegally selling weapons.
The jury acquitted Avelino of two money-laundering counts, two counts of trading with the enemy and another weapons count.
"Thank you. Not an easy case," U.S. District Judge John T. Elfvin told the jurors after the verdict was read shortly after 11 a.m.
Speaking to reporters in the lobby of the courthouse, Avelino complained that the only crimes in the case were committed by undercover agents of the U.S. Customs Service. His attorney, James P. Harrington, argued during a monthlong trial that Avelino was entrapped by the government.
"They did manufacture the crimes. Otherwise I wouldn't be here," Avelino said. "I've never committed any crimes anywhere before."
Harrington said he is "happy Rey was acquitted of the most serious of the charges (trading with the enemy), but disappointed he was convicted of anything at all."
At least one juror reported the jury was troubled by the way the government went after Avelino.
The arrest of the Rexdale, Ont. aircraft dealer on Nov. 6, 1989 was reported by news agencies throughout the world.
The arrest followed the seizure of two former U.S. Air Force fighter jets, equipped with guns and bomb chutes, at the Peace Bridge. The recovery capped a two-month sting investigation in which U.S. Customs agents posed as weapons buyers seeking military equipment for El Salvador and countries in the Mideast.
Avelino purchased the jets from the government of Vietnam for $137,500 and was selling them for $300,000, agents said.
A federal grand jury charged Avelino with two counts of making false statements to Customs officials; one count of attempting to transfer money outside the United States; one count of attempting to conduct a financial transaction involving unlawful activity; two counts of unlawfully selling firearms; and two counts of breaking a federal law that prohibits U.S. businessmen from dealing with Vietnam, an unfriendly nation.
The trial was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Roger P. Williams and Susan W. Schoepperle.
Today's verdict was "a fair one," said Williams, who complimented jurors for their efforts.
One juror told The Buffalo News after the trial that he and other members of the panel were troubled by the claims of government entrapment.
"The government is supposed to help people," said Joseph Franklin, 59, a retired auto worker. "If the man goes into it himself, OK, but don't pull him into the deal . . . I think everybody on the jury kind of felt that way."
Franklin added, however, that he felt Avelino created many of his own problems by approaching a Florida businessman with an offer of war planes.
The Philippines native admitted in trial testimony that he is a hustling businessman whose ventures included offering millions of dollars' worth of jets, helicopters and arms that were left behind by U.S. military forces after the end of the Vietnam War.
He told jurors he obtained access to the weaponry through a friend whose father is a high-ranking Vietnam military official.
But Avelino denied being a criminal.
He maintained he was always acting as a legitimate businessman during his dealings with the undercover agents.
"Avelino believed he was involved in a legitimate transaction," defense attorney Harrington said.