Former Blackwater employees contest federal charges

RALEIGH -- Five former Blackwater employees accused of breaking a series of federal firearms laws to give the company a leg up over rivals in the military contracting and training business contested the charges in federal court this morning.

Attorneys for the five asked U.S. Magistrate Judge James Gates to allow them to remain free without posting bond and criticized the government's charges against them.

"These are not serious offenses. I don't think they're offenses at all," said Ken Bell, a Charlotte attorney representing former Blackwater president Gary Jackson. "All of this was done with the knowledge of, the request of and for the convenience of, an agency of the U.S. government."

A federal indictment made public last week says company officials phonied federal paperwork to cover up a gift of firearms to the King of Jordan, whom Blackwater was courting as a client.

The indictment also says Jackson used the tiny Camden County Sheriff's Office as a front to buy automatic AK-47s that Blackwater wanted for its training facility in Moyock. It also says the company illegally possessed short-barreled rifles that Blackwater officials deemed useful for winning security contracts.

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