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Lawyer says government destroyed evidence in Navy fraud case

McLEAN, Va. — Defense lawyers say that evidence has been deliberately destroyed in a conspiracy case involving allegations of a secret Navy contract to build hundreds of rifle silencers, ostensibly for the branch’s elite Seal Team Six.

Auto mechanic Mark Stuart Landersman of Temecula, Calif., has been charged with conspiracy to manufacture unlicensed firearms and commit fraud. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Thursday in federal court in Alexandria.

Landersman’s attorney, John Zwerling, asked the judge to dismiss the case, claiming government misconduct. He said a whistleblower raised allegations that documents relevant to the case have been deliberately shredded and burned in recent weeks. The whistleblower’s affidavit has been sealed.

Zwerling said the judge is taking the allegations of destroyed evidence seriously and has authorized subpoenas to get to the bottom of it.

Charges against Landersman were unsealed Oct. 30. He is the only individual currently facing criminal charges. An affidavit also refers to two senior Navy intelligence officers, whose names are withheld, saying they were conspirators in the alleged fraud and steered a nearly $2 million contract toward Landersman and ensured that he would not have to compete against bids from other contractors.

Exactly why the silencers were sought is unclear. According to court papers, an unnamed senior Navy intelligence officer identified as a conspirator told a Navy employee that the silencers for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, the formal name for Seal Team Six. But NSWDG representatives told investigators that they never ordered any silencers.

The silencers — manufactured by Landersman in part with assistance from an online article “How I Built a 300 AAC Blackout Suppressor” provided to him by one of the senior Navy officers identified as a conspirator — did not have serial numbers or other markings required under federal law, prosecutors allege in court papers.

In seeking to have the case dismissed, Zwerling’s motion says a whistleblower has provided a written statement that relevant documents, including potential classified materials, were destroyed as recently Nov. 15 — more than two weeks after the charges against Landersman were unsealed.

“The destruction was indiscriminate in that it did not differentiate between personal items, unclassified items, and potentially classified materials,” wrote lawyers Zwerling and Cary Citronberg.

Zwerling said the destroyed documents could have been important to his client’s defense.

“Based on what we know, this was legitimate procurement,” Zwerling said. “We have not seen anything to indicate criminal behavior on the part of our client.”

Prosecutors have not yet filed a motion responding to the allegations of destroyed evidence. That is expected in coming days. A spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service says the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further.

An affidavit submitted by an NCIS investigator says that Landersman was paid nearly $1.7 million for 349 silencers, a price of about $4,500 each. Similar silencers available through regular government channels from anywhere from $937 to $1,700.

In the indictment, prosecutors say Landersman paid another man $10,000, including materials, to build the suppressors.

In court papers for a related forfeiture case, prosecutors allege that Landersman used the money he received to purchase a 1988 black Porsche 911 turbo, a 1970 blue Plymouth Roadrunner, several off-road racing vehicles including one named “Redneck Injunearin,” and shares in a brewery.

The Landersman case is unrelated to another Navy corruption case in which two Navy admirals had their access to classified material suspended amid allegations of a bribery scheme in Asia.