BILLINGS, Mont. — A Montana man was sentenced Wednesday to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to illegally exporting high-caliber handguns to customers in Australia, Norway and other countries with strict weapons laws.
Eric Daniel Doyle shipped 25 to 35 firearms to customers outside the U.S. after arranging the sales over the internet beginning in 2014, prosecutors said. The weapons were shipped through the U.S. Postal Service to countries that also included Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Doyle, 37, of Kalispell, had argued for a shorter prison term and said his cooperation with authorities led to 17 arrests and five firearms seized or recovered. Federal defender Andrew Nelson said his client plans to appeal Wednesday's sentence from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security opened 22 cases linked to Doyle's gun-running scheme involving individuals in seven countries, Nelson said in a submission to the court. Federal officials did not immediately comment on the defense claim and Nelson declined to give further details.
Four Montana co-defendants including Doyle's uncle, Jay Isles, were previously sentenced and received more lenient punishments. Those ranged from time already served for Isles, to five years of probation with periods of home confinement for defendants Jeffrey Lee Palmer and Tanna Lee Meagher. Defendant Brian Spain received two years of probation.
Many of the guns were obtained by the defendants through a "straw purchaser" who would buy firearms from a licensed dealer on Doyle's behalf, according to a 2015 indictment. Serial numbers on most of the weapons sold by the defendants had been obliterated, according to court records.
Doyle fled to Mexico in 2015 after learning he was being investigated, according to court records. He eluded authorities for two years prior to his November arrest in the Mexican state of Sonora.
Under a deal with prosecutors reached in January, he pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm and two counts of illegal exports. Prosecutors dropped 41 additional criminal counts as part of the plea deal.
Doyle had been prohibited from possessing firearms because of felony convictions in Illinois in 2006 on drug and burglary charges, according to public records.