A MAN has been found guilty of smuggling guns on commercial flights from the United States and selling them to crime gangs in the UK.
Steven Cardwell, from Aintree in Merseyside, acquired the weapons from a former US Marine and broke them into small parts hidden in luggage to evade security.
The 31-year-old had denied conspiring to import, sell and possess firearms. He will be sentenced today.
The jury at Liverpool Crown Court was discharged after failing to reach a majority verdict on co-accused Neil Copplestone, a 32-year-old from Ormskirk in Lancashire.
He was bailed until a later date.
The weapons were smuggled into the country by American Steven Greenoe, who was arrested at Raleigh Durham International Airport, in North Carolina, last July with an arsenal of 16 guns in his suitcase.
British prosecutors said over the previous six months, Greenoe, who claimed to be a former captain in the US Marines and former bodyguard to Madonna, had purchased 81 firearms from gun shops in the US.
They believe he smuggled 63 of them into the UK, mainly through Manchester Airport, but only eight have been recovered.
The prosecution emphasised 10 transatlantic journeys made by Greenoe between January and July last year. After boarding in North Carolina, he would either fly direct to Manchester, or via New York, Atlanta or Los Angeles.
Greenoe pleaded guilty to two charges of transporting guns outside the US without a federal export licence and will be sentenced in the US next month.
When UK police searched his home in Shropshire on July 27, they found a Glock pistol and two magazines stored in a canvas bag in a safe.
Greenoe, a US citizen, had “indefinite leave to remain in the UK” because his then-wife Elizabeth is British and lived in Shrewsbury.
Giving evidence, his ex-wife described his glamorous lifestyle as a bodyguard to A-list Hollywood celebrities.
While working in Paris and Amsterdam, Greenoe provided protection for the cast of Oceans 12, including George Clooney, his ex-wife told the trial.
But certificates found in his home contradicted his claims he rose to the rank of captain in the US Marines.
The weapons have been linked to at least one fatal shooting in the UK, but the facts of that incident cannot be reported for legal reasons.
Undercover police officers in Liverpool bought three Glock handguns for £3,600 apiece but Nigel Flewitt QC, prosecuting, told the jury Greenoe would have paid just £300 for each weapon in the US.
“Smuggling guns out of the US to sell to criminals in the UK is an extremely profitable trade,” he said.
The weapon used when a 24-year-old man was shot in the leg during a drive-by shooting in Wythenshawe, Manchester, in October last year contained cartridges which matched the guns smuggled by Greenoe in America.
Another weapon, a “composite firearm” used in the attempted robbery of a Liverpool taxi driver last March, was also forensically matched to two guns bought by Greenoe.
Mr Flewitt told the trial: “In view of the fact that when he was arrested, Steven Greenoe was about to board a flight to the UK with a further 16 firearms concealed in his luggage, it is a reasonable inference that most, if not all, the firearms purchased by him in the US were intended for or have found their way into and are now in the hands of criminals in the UK.”
Louise Ellman, a Liverpool MP and chair of the Commons Transport Committee, branded the incident “deeply disturbing” and called on the government to press the American authorities for answers.
Last night she said: “It is deeply disturbing that guns were brought into the UK in this way and have ended up in the hands of violent criminals.
“The American authorities should be asked how this was allowed to happen and what they are doing to ensure it never happens again.”