A 30-year-old man who plotted to sell a TOW missile component to Iran received probation earlier this week for violating U.S. export laws —even though federal prosecutors in Chicago had sought a stiff prison term.
Ali Mohammadi, of Irvine, California, pleaded guilty to paying $5,800 in 2010 to buy a gyroscope from an undercover federal agent posing as a Chicago-based weapons broker.
Gyroscopes are used in the telescope sights of TOW missiles, which are designed to attack tanks.
Prosecutors said the undercover agent repeatedly warned Mohammadi he would need a license to export a gyroscope. Mohammadi told the agent he might eventually buy “half a million dollars” of them.
Mohammadi, an Iranian-American, told the agent he planned to sell the gyroscope to a wealthy customer in the United Arab Emirates “for personal use” and promised not to get the agent in trouble.
But Mohammadi knew the gyroscope was destined for Iran, where exports of military equipment are banned, prosecutors said. A broker in the United Arab Emirates told Mohammadi in an email: “Don’t say you want those for Iran . . . please keep it a secret,” prosecutors said.
Mohammadi was arrested in April 2010 after meeting the agent at a coffee house in California to take delivery of the gyroscope.
Ebrahim Hallaji, the broker in the United Arab Emirates, also is charged in the scheme and is a fugitive, court records show.
Prosecutors sought a sentence of 57 to 71 months in prison for Mohammadi to “provide general deterrence to others by making clear that those who are willing to provide military items to Iran and attempt to obstruct justice will be meaningfully punished.”
But his attorney, Beth Jantz, asked for probation for her client. She presented evidence that federal judges in Chicago often sentence defendants to probation for violations of U.S. export laws.
Mohammadi wasn’t ideologically motivated, Jantz argued, but was simply trying to get his fledgling export business off the ground and pay his father back for the rent he owed for living in his home.
Before Mohammadi bought the gyroscope, he exported mascara and laptop computers, Jantz said.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow sentenced Mohammadi to five years of probation — including three months of home confinement — and a $2,000 fine.
Mohammadi currently runs a business fixing cellphones in California, according to court records.