Archive for the ‘Criminal Penalties’ Category



University Medical Researcher Prosecuted for Sending Medical Device to Iran

Posted by Clif Burns at 8:21 pm on March 18, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

By Erin! Nekervis [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons to this article in the San Diego Union Tribune, Mohamad Nazemzadeh, who was a Research Fellow in the Neurology Department of the University of Michigan at the time of his arrest, is being prosecuted for sending a medical device to Iran. At issue is a coil for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. The coil is the assembly of wires that generates the necessary radio signals when electricity flows through them to permit imaging the part of the body within the coil. Mr. Nazemzadeh is currently a researcher at the Henry Ford hospital in Detroit and his area of specialty is, not surprisingly, magnetic resonance imaging.

A part for an MRI machine would, under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, be eligible for an export license notwithstanding the embargo on Iran. Nazemzadeh’s failure to obtain a license would, of course, be a violation of the embargo. Even assuming that it was a criminal violation in his case, one has to wonder why prosecutorial resources are being consumed to prosecute a researcher for trying to send life-saving medical equipment to Iran. Aren’t there dangerous people out there with guns and bombs who might warrant the attention instead?

An affidavit in support of a search warrant for Nazemzadeh’s mobile phone provides more detail on the case than the Union-Tribune article and casts some doubt on whether Nazemzadeh actually had the criminal intent necessary to support a criminal prosecution for the attempted export of the MRI part. According to the affidavit, Nazemzadeh was negotiating with the undercover federal agent (who had been tipped off by the used medical device company that Nazemzadeh had contacted) to ship the MRI coil to Iran through a company in the Netherlands. As is often the case, it is not uncommon for people to believe (incorrectly) that if it is legal to ship an item to a particular country, no laws are broken if the item is then re-exported to a prohibited destination. Here, according to the affidavit, Mr. Nazemzadeh continued to say to the undercover agent that he believed the transaction was legal and says this is true because the export from the United States is to the Netherlands, not Iran.

Just tell that, you sold that item to some company in the Netherlands, and you have the request so you’re, you issued pro forma form for them and they sent money from the bank account to you, everything is legal between you[r] two companies …. [T]here’s nothing to do with Iran. You actually have sold that coil to one company in Netherland [sic], ok?

Granted that isn’t a true statement of the law, but a good faith legal mistake is not a criminal act. Instead, this is precisely the sort of case that ought to be handled as an administrative matter by OFAC. Such a proceeding could result in the imposition of substantial civil penalties on Mr. Nazemzadeh notwithstanding his mistaken belief that the transaction did not violate U.S. law.

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Praise the Lord and Pass on Exporting the Ammunition

Posted by Clif Burns at 8:15 pm on February 4, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesDDTCUSML

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit via [Public Domain]
ABOVE: Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals

The Fourth Circuit recently handed down a decision in United States v. Bishop in which it upheld the conviction of Brian Bishop, a U.S. foreign service officer, who was convicted of an attempted export of ammunition in connection with his move from his residence in Alabama to his post in Jordan. Bishop’s appeal centered on the knowledge requirement for an export conviction, arguing that he was unaware that the items he was exporting were on the USML. The Fourth Circuit held that specific knowledge that the items were USML is not necessary to support a conviction and ruled that the District Court had adequate evidence that Bishop knew that the exports were illegal.

The odd part of this finding is that Bishop had left the ammunition in the boxes in which the ammunition was purchased and which were clearly labelled “ORM–D” and “cartridges, small arms.” Indeed, the District Court relied on that labeling to acquit Bishop on charges of delivering ammunition to a carrier without notice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(e). Generally speaking, criminal export cases almost always rely on mislabeling the goods as the most significant indicia of criminal intent, so this case is a bit of an outlier.

The evidence of Bishop’s intent relied on by the District Court, and upheld by the Fourth Circuit, seems pretty sketchy. The Fourth Circuit cited State Department training that Bishop received on the Foreign Affairs Manual, which states that shipment of ammunition is prohibited. The FAM cites 27 C.F.R. § 478 as authority for that prohibition and that regulation cites the Arms Export Control Act, although there is no suggestion that Bishop looked up the text of that regulation, not cited in the FAM, and saw its reference to the AECA. And, worse yet, the State Department employee who provided the FAM training to Bishop herself testified: “I can’t tell you what the State Department’s reasoning is” for prohibiting the shipment of ammunition.

The Fourth Circuit further cites an email from the moving company that Bishop’s wife received after the moving company had taken possession of the household effects stating that the shipment of the ammunition was illegal. This hardly seems probative of Bishop’s state of mind when he gave the ammunition to the moving company for export. Also cited by the Court was an inventory, prepared by the movers, which Bishop signed, and which did not mention the ammunition.  However, there was no evidence that he read the inventory carefully or noticed the omission. The worst evidence for Bishop is, perhaps, the fact that some of the ammunition was repacked by Bishop in boxes labelled “weights,” although it seems hard to rely on that when some of the ammunition remained in its original packaging and was clearly marked as ammunition.  Indeed, all of the evidence cited by the two courts cannot trump the simple fact that Bishop shipped the ammunition in clearly marked boxes.

Ironically, in a case that turns on knowledge of illegality, the court and the prosecutors themselves seem to be confused about what ammunition is and isn’t on the USML. Excluded from the AECA charges were “nearly 2,000 rounds of .45–caliber and 12–gauge shotgun ammunition.” These were only included in the count alleging delivery of ammunition without notice to a carrier. The 12-gauge shotgun shells are probably not Category III of the USML because shotguns with barrel lengths of 18 inches or longer are excluded from Category I. That ammunition would therefore be controlled under ECCN 0A984 and could be exported to Jordan without license. But .45 caliber ammunition is clearly covered under USML Category III, so it is odd that it was excluded from the count alleging the AECA violations.

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Russian Export Defendant Slapped on Wrist, Told to Leave U.S.

Posted by Clif Burns at 5:35 pm on January 31, 2014
Category: Arms ExportCriminal Penalties

By  Sgt. Scott M. Biscuiti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons in November, this blog reported on the indictment of a Russian citizen, Roman Kvinikadze, on charges that he attempted to export military thermal imaging sights without the required State Department license. As we noted then, the indictment created a bit of a diplomatic row between the United States and Russia, with Russia claiming that federal agents knowingly provoked Kvinikadze to violate the law and then lured him into the United States to arrest him. The Russian pique was directed at statements by the undercover U.S. agent to Kvinikadze that the sights required an export license but that if the license was unavailable there were other ways he could ship the sights to Kvinikadze. Although these facts might not support the narrowly construed entrapment defense, they can easily been seen as grounds for a diplomatic contretemps.

Well, the Russian irritation seems to have been heard loud and clear in Washington. Last week, a federal judge sentenced Kvinikadze, who had entered a guilty plea, to time served and a $7500 fine. He also ordered Kvinikadze to leave the United States, something that Kvinikadze was no doubt happy to do with or without a judicial order requiring him to do so. Kvinikadze had been in custody for 147 days so time served was significantly less than would have been required under federal sentencing guidelines which would have specified a minimum sentence of 33 to 41 months. News reports stated that the prosecutor requested the reduced sentence, and the judge justified it by stating that “Kvinikadze may not have fully appreciated the potential damage to relations between the U.S. and Russia if the sights had fallen into wrong hands.”

When I reviewed the docket to see if I could find anything else to justify this lenient sentence, I discovered that the Presentence Report, the Presentence Report Recommendation and an Addendum to the Presentence Report were all sealed and unavailable for review. Although there are a number of reasons that this could be the case, including the possibility of the discussion of some extremely private matters involving Kvinikadze, my money is that these were sealed because they have a discussion of the diplomatic ramifications of the sentence, something that prosecutors and courts are loathe to reveal. So when Kvinikadze is safely back in Russia, I’m going to bet he sends an effusive thank you note to his BFF Vladimir Putin.

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Fun BIS Fact: Companies May Actually Know What They Don’t Know

Posted by Clif Burns at 3:41 pm on January 28, 2014
Category: BISCriminal Penalties

Amplifier Research HQ Street View from Google [By Permission]
ABOVE: Amplifier Research HQ

There seems to be a recent plague of rogue export control managers with a penchant for forging licenses, making up authorizations, fudging exemptions and exceptions and engaging in other nefarious practices in order to avoid having to do any actual work while on the job they are being paid for. First it was LeAnne Lesmeister who specialized in photoshopping fake export licenses. Now we have Timothy Gormley at Amplifier Research Corporation who among other things falsified paperwork to conceal correct export classifications, listed fake license numbers on export documentation, authorized exports before license applications were granted and lied to other employees at the company about the existence of required export licenses.

The BIS settlement documents assert that Amplifier Research never conducted any compliance audits during the time that Gormley was running the export show. BIS imposed a $500,000 suspended fine on Amplifier Research to settle the violations and required the company to conduct a complete export compliance audit. A federal judge awarded Gormley a 42-month vacation in a federal correctional facility.

This all seems pretty routine until you get to the last count against the Company in which BIS charges Amplifier Research with “acting with knowledge” of the illegal exports at issue. The Export Administration Regulations define knowledge as follows:

Knowledge of a circumstance (the term may be a variant, such as “know,” “reason to know,” or “reason to believe”) includes not only positive knowledge that the circumstance exists or is substantially certain to occur, but also an awareness of a high probability of its existence or future occurrence. Such awareness is inferred from evidence of the conscious disregard of facts known to a person and is also inferred from a person’s willful avoidance of facts.

Neither this definition of knowledge, nor section 764.2 of the EAR, addresses when a company knows something. Additionally, neither addresses the issue as to whether the knowledge of each and every employee can be imputed to the company for purposes of “acting with knowledge” violations under section 764.2. Certainly, Gormley can be said to have acted with knowledge, but should the company also be said to have acted with knowledge unless senior management had “knowledge” as defined above of Gormley’s actions? Certainly those standards of knowledge would not be met simply because the company failed to conduct a compliance audit on Gormley and the export program. Rather, it seems to me, there would need to some red flags that senior management ignored and there is no evidence or assertion by BIS that there were any such ignored red flags.

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California Man Sentenced to Three Years for Export Violations

Posted by Clif Burns at 6:14 pm on January 13, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesDDTCITAR

Philip He Family Photo via [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Philip Chaohui He

Last February, this blog reported on the indictment of Philip Chaohui He, who had been indicted on charges that he attempted to export to China $549,654 worth of ITAR-controlled, radiation hardened, space qualified memory chips to China without the required export license. On December 19, Mr. He, who had entered a guilty plea to the charges, was sentenced to three years in prison.

Since our original post, several interesting details have emerged with respect to Mr. He and his attempted export to China. The first relates to the potential involvement of the Chinese government in these exports. The San Francisco Chronicle tells an interesting story as to the ship on which He tried to load the memory chips. The ship was owned by ZPMC, a Chinese state-owned enterprise that was fabricating steel towers for the San Francisco Bay Bridge renovation, a project on which Mr. He was working as an engineer. Mr. He told Jim Yang an employee of ZPMC that one of their employees had left behind in San Francisco a package of personal effects and that he would like to return the package to the employee via a ZPMC ship that was soon departing from the port in Long Beach, California.

Yang said he wondered why He would want to drive seven hours to make the delivery, but he had replied, “Fine.”

“So he drove down by himself with a couple of boxes in his vehicle,” Yang said. “And we had dinner together because he was doing us a favor.”

The next morning, Yang said, He followed him in his car to the Port of Long Beach, where they entered the ZPMC dock site using Yang’s security badge.

Mr. He was immediately arrested on the dock. Yang denies that he knew what was in the package or that ZPMC was in cahoots with He. The red flag here is not just the one flying over Beijing. Why was He driving seven hours with a package of personal effects as a favor to a ZPMC employee he met on the Bay Bridge Project? He couldn’t figure out any other easier way to return the box? Then Yang uses his badge and let’s He on the dock with a package of completely unknown contents that could have been a dirty bomb for all Yang knew. Uh huh. Sure. And if you believe that I’ve got a Bay Bridge to sell you.

The second detail relates to the participation of the memory chip manufacturer, Aeroflex, in the apprehension of Mr. He. We speculated in the original post that He’s large order of stuff he had little demonstrated need for set off alarm bells in Aeroflex and that they set the law on him. This lengthy investigative report on the case by Reuters confirms that this was the case.

People and companies who buy these kinds of rad-chips are usually well-established, repeat customers – more multinational corporation than mom & pop. Aeroflex salesmen had never heard of “Philip Hope” or his company, “Sierra Electronic Instruments.”

Most suspicious of all, just days after placing the order, Hope sent Aeroflex a certified check for the full amount, $549,654. That was rare. Buyers were expected to make a deposit, but nobody paid up front.

Of course, being alert to red flags and lending a helping hand to the government did not result in any expression of gratitude from the Government which, not long after, fined Aeroflex $8 million for export violations that Aeroflex voluntarily disclosed to the Government. My guess is that in the future Aeroflex will simply decline to make sales like this one that are suspicious and won’t feel particularly motivated to pick up the phone and tell the feds about it.

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