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Former CA art student pleads guilty to illegal $6.8 million arms deal with Nigeria

Row of handguns. (US Coast Guard Academy/Released)

Ara Dolarian Jr., the Fresno man who went from art student to arms dealer, pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday to one count of conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act.

Dolarian, 58, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He awaits sentencing.

Dolarian was arrested by federal agents in May for allegedly trying to broker an illegal arms deal in 2013 and 2014 with the Nigerian government.

Court documents show Dolarian, through his company Dolarian Capital Inc., was trying to sell high-explosive bombs, rockets, military-grade firearms and aircraft-mounted cannons from Eastern Europe and South Africa without approval from the U.S. State Department.

Federal prosecutors charged Dolarian with conspiracy, illegal arms dealing and money laundering. He was facing up 45 years in prison if he was found guilty on all the charges. But in a hearing on Thursday before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill, Dolarian entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act.

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The act provides the general rules for selling military grade weapons, including the requirement to be licensed by the State Department. Prosecutors allege Dolarian broke the rules by brokering a deal without approval from federal officials.

The Nigerian deal that included bombs, rockets and cannons was worth $8.6 million. Dolarian is alleged to have used some of the money to pay off federal and state tax debts. But as part his guilty plea, Dolarian will have to forfeit more than $6 million to the U.S. government.

George B. Newhouse, Dolarian’s attorney, could not be reached for comment Friday and federal officials declined to comment.

For years, Dolarian quietly operated his Fresno-based company, Dolarian Capital Inc., out of a West Shaw Avenue office, until word of his exploits in the arms dealing world began to circulate.

In 2014, BuzzFeed wrote an article about Dolarian’s life as lucrative international arms dealer, selling everything from Soviet T-72 tanks to rocket launchers.

Dolarian’s expertise in arms dealing is a far cry from his humble beginnings in his hometown of Fresno. His mother, Rose Dolarian, was a peace activist and his father, Ara, was at one time chairman of the Art Department at Fresno State.

The younger Dolarian initially followed his father into the art world. He studied sculpture at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

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© 2019 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.