A Raleigh man was sentenced to federal prison Monday for participating in a gun-smuggling scheme that led to a botched coup attempt in his native Gambia.
Alhaji Boye, who hails from a small farming village in the small West African country, was remorseful for breaking U.S. laws, his attorney wrote in a sentencing memorandum before the sentencing. Boye became so troubled by the reign of Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s ruler for 22 years, that he agreed to purchase two AK-47-style rifles, four Diamondback rifles, 7,000 rounds of ammunition and 98 AK-47 magazines to be used in a 2014 ouster attempt by The Gambia Freedom League.
U.S. District Judge W. Earl Britt sentenced Boye to nine months in prison Monday, slightly more than five months after Boye pleaded guilty to conspiracy to export firearms.
The attempt to overthrow Jammeh, a leader who compiled a long list of human rights violation threatening to behead gay people and detaining and torturing critics, was well publicized.
On Dec. 30, 2014, with the president out of the country, several gunmen attacked the state house, hoping to overwhelm the presidential guard with semi-automatic rifles and other military equipment that they had smuggled into the country. But members of the Gambian military who were expected to get behind the coup never materialized, and the plotters were forced to abandon their plot after suffering casualties.
“The group hoped to take over the country, gain support from internal allies, and bring about regime change,” federal investigators associated with Boye have stated in documents related to his case.
Afterward, the Gambian military recovered at least 35 firearms, assault gear, vehicles and 55-gallon barrels.
It was in those barrels, federal prosecutors contend, that Boye’s conspirators shipped the weapons from the United States to Gambia. The men broke down the guns, put parts inside cardboard boxes and slide them into the plastic barrels filled with blankets, T-shirts, shoes and other items from Goodwill. The barrels were taken to a shipping company along the East Coast and sent to the port of Banjul.
Boye became a suspect in the case after the FBI tracked a transfer of $7,000 to his bank account after investigators homed in on members of The Gambia Freedom League in the United States.
Boye, according to court documents, became involved with the league after he visited family in Gambia in 2012.
When he arrived after nearly a decade and a half of living in the United States, Boye was “shocked by the climate of fear he found in his home country,” according to the sentencing memorandum prepared by Thomas P. McNamara, a federal public defender. “Although empty lands were replaced by homes and shops, immediately evident was the lack of clean water, food and medicine,” McNamara wrote.
Boye, according to the sentencing memo, also “saw rampant political corruption, kidnappings and reports of torture, restrictions of the press to discuss anything negative about President Jammeh, and fear of fellow Gambians to be heard saying anything negative about the government.”
Although that visit nagged at him, he was not moved to action, his attorney said, until the summer of 2013 when his cousin and a friend were abducted in Gambia.
Boye, who became a U.S. citizen in June 2013, has worked and lived in Raleigh, Rhode Island and Minnesota. He has worked as a dishwasher at North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh, a night stockman and seafood clerk at Hannaford’s grocery store, a nursing aide at several places and a taxi driver in the Triangle.
Jammeh lost the election in 2016, and though he initially conceded he later refused to accept the vote as legitimate. It was not until early this year, under pressure from the United Nations and African Union troops, that Jammeh left office.
Boye regrets that he did not limit his actions to being a strong advocate for change, his attorney wrote.
“Although it has been a long time coming, Mr. Boye has seen that through the Gambian electoral process, peaceful advocacy for change, the support of the international community, and patience, that change has come to fruition,” McNamara wrote.
Four others who played a more integral role in the attempt to overthrow the Gambian government have been sentenced in different federal courts across the country.
“Alhaji Boye deeply regrets his decision to purchase weapons used in the 2014 coup attempt,” McNamara wrote. “He is ashamed of his involvement, and considers his actions a betrayal to the United States.”