Steven Greenoe -- who was born in New Orleans but holds British citizenship -- was questioned in May by TSA agents at Raleigh-Durham Airport in North Carolina after scanners spotted gun parts scattered throughout his luggage, according to court documents obtained by the London Times. Greenoe allegedly talked his way past the TSA workers, claiming he was a legitimate arms dealer and that the guns were dummy "engineering samples," not working firearms.
He was arrested at Raleigh airport in July with 16 handguns in his luggage, after British police tipped off U.S. authorities. Greenoe told investigators that he was an international security consultant and that the weapons were meant for employees working in hazardous areas, such as the pirate-patrolled waters off Somalia.
The exact nature of Greenoe's work, however, is difficult to decipher. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he is chief executive of security consultancy for the Jolie Rouge Group, but the company's website provides no evidence of any work it has carried out and doesn't list its office address, a contact e-mail or a telephone number.
The 37-year-old is now being held without bond at Pitt County jail until his trial, which is scheduled for March, WRAL.com reports. Greenoe has been charged with illegally exporting firearms without a license and falsifying an ATF form. British authorities have not ruled out bringing their own charges against him.
"This is a complex investigation involving law enforcement agencies ... nationally and with partners in the United States," Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Leach, head of northwest England's serious and organized crime task force, said in a statement. "The availability of firearms poses a serious risk, and our investigations will be continuing over the coming weeks and months."
U.K. police started to uncover the suspected gunrunner's operation in February, after officers arrested two British firearms dealers and recovered three Glock pistols, the BBC reports. Detectives were surprised to discover that the guns didn't originate in Europe -- unlike most firearms used by U.K. criminals -- but in North Carolina.
Greenoe reportedly attended high school in Raleigh, and his mother still lives there. The accused smuggler -- who until his arrest lived in the U.K. with his English wife, Elizabeth -- paid numerous visits to his mother's home in late 2009 and the first half of 2010, according to the Times, and bought dozens of firearms at North Carolina gun shops.
The U.K. has some of the toughest gun laws in the world, so a pistol that costs $500 in the U.S. could be resold on Britain's black market for $5,000.
Ballistics tests have revealed that one of the guns allegedly imported by Greenoe was used in a drive-by shooting in Manchester in October, which saw a 24-year-old man wounded in the leg. Police are now trying to track down the remaining 60-plus guns.
British counterterrorism officials have also become involved in the case, the Times notes, after receiving intelligence warnings that Islamic extremists were attempting to obtain guns for
a Mumbai-style attack on a crowded public target in the U.K.
"This makes a mockery of the stringent checks we all endure at U.S. airports, such as removing our shoes and belts, having our toothpaste confiscated and all the other irritants," he wrote in the Times. "At a time when there is intelligence and repeated warnings about the threat of a Mumbai-type terror attack, this is a serious lapse by our closest ally."
Greenoe's wife -- who lives in the quaint west English town of Shrewsbury -- apparently knew nothing of her husband's alleged activities. She gave birth to twins in October, three months after her husband's arrest, and friends told the Times that she believes she has been deceived and abandoned by Greenoe.
Mark Edwards, Greenoe's lawyer, told the paper that his client is "a bright young man, very sociable, a bright guy, well read, well educated, well traveled. He's been all over the world. He's an interesting man to deal with and not my average client at all."