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Canadian arrested in Grand Forks in alleged international gun smuggling scheme

A Canadian man was arrested this week by federal agents at a Grand Forks motel after they say he took $24,000 in cash for six guns he thought would be smuggled into Canada.

Shawn Hartnell, 29, appeared in federal court in Grand Forks on Wednesday.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Chase, Hartnell faces two charges.

One count alleges that, as a Canadian citizen in the United States on a "non-immigrant," visa, Hartnell was illegally possessing firearms.

The second charge alleges Hartnell conspired to illegally export firearms to Canada without the proper licensing.

The first charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years; the second one - five years.

The team of agents doing the deal Tuesday included Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers posing as Canadian customers for the weapons, Chase said.

The weapons described in the complaint are legal for U.S. citizens to own, buy and sell, Chase said.

In court documents, investigators said a man and woman from Idaho met Hartnell in Grand Forks and had brought him guns for the deal. The two were released after Hartnell's arrest but the investigation remains open, Chase said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal on Wednesday ordered Hartnell held until a detention hearing Monday when she will decide if he will be freed pending any trial.

Local attorney David Dusek was appointed to defend Hartnell.

Hartnell is from Fort Frances, Ont., just across the border and the Rainy River from International Falls, Minn.

But he has been living and working recently in West Virginia on a U.S. visa, according to a court affidavit from a Homeland Security agent.

The agent alleges Hartnell already sold assault rifles last year to RCMP agents in Winnipeg, telling them he had smuggled them across the border with a snowmobile, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fargo.

Hartnell was arrested Tuesday at the Settle Inn motel in Grand Forks after he showed undercover agents four semi-automatic assault-style rifles and two semi-automatic handguns and took $24,000 in cash for them, Chase said.

Started in April

The investigation reaches back at least to April when U.S. agents with Homeland Security, members of the Grand Forks area narcotics task force and RCMP agents working undercover in Pembina, N.D., made contact with Hartnell, who was working in the North Dakota Oil Patch at the time, investigators said.

According to the complaint documents, Hartnell promised the undercover agents he had two "AR"style rifles hidden in Canada that he would sell for $2,000 each. Later in April, RCMP agents in Winnipeg made the deal with Hartnell.

He said he could get many more weapons for the agents smuggled in from the United States and gave agents his cell phone number, according to the complaint.

He also promised to deliver fully automatic weapons, which can't be owned legally in the United States without a special dealer's license and typically are more expensive than semi-automatics.

After April's deal, little contact was made between the undercover agents and Hartnell until he called in December. Agents say he again met in Winnipeg with RCMP agents and sold them two handguns while promising larger numbers of guns, including fully automatic ones.

Last week, Hartnell called undercover agents and said he would be traveling from West Virginia to Grand Forks to deliver the weapons.

Deal goes down

The man and woman who accompanied Hartnell to the gun deal Tuesday told agents they knew him because the man had worked with Hartnell in the Oil Patch months ago, according to the agents' affidavit.

The man and woman said they lived in Jerome, Idaho, and received $10,000 via wire transfer recently from Hartnell to buy guns there and bring them to Grand Forks for the deal. They said they drove this week to Grand Forks with weapons which Hartnell said would be smuggled into Canada, investigators said.

On Tuesday, agents watching the three saw Hartnell leave the Econo Lodge in Grand Forks in his vehicle followed by the man and woman in another vehicle and drive to the Settle Inn where the deal went down.

The six weapons he showed agents Tuesday included three "AK-variant" semi-automatics, resembling the Russian AK-47 rifle; one "AR-variant" rifle based on the M-16; and two semi-automatic handguns, according to the court complaint.

After he took the cash, Hartnell was arrested without incident in the motel, Chase said.

The man and woman from Idaho still could face charges, depending on the investigation, he said.

Hartnell was charged with several traffic-related offenses in North Dakota from January 2011 through May 2012, most of them in Williston, according to state court records.

But Chase said he does not appear to have any felony convictions in the United States.