SANTA ANA, Calif. - Three men who operated an export business out of a Huntington Beach, Calif., residence face federal charges today for their role in a scheme to illegally export at least 55 state-of-the-art night vision goggles to Vietnam in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
The three men, all of Vietnamese descent, are named in a five-count indictment filed in federal court here earlier this month. Dan Tran Dang, 62, of Santa Ana, Calif.; Liem Duc Huynh, 49, now residing in Broken Arrow, Okla.; and George Ngoc Bui, 49, believed to be in Vietnam; are accused of conspiring to illegally ship Generation 3 Night Vision Goggles manufactured by ITT Industries to Vietnam. Because the goggles are classified as a "defense article" on the United States Munitions List, written permission must be obtained from the U.S. Department of State in order to legally export them.
The charges against the men stem from an undercover investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The case is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
"Motivated by greed, these defendants illegally exported our nation's most advanced night vision technology and placed our military's tactical advantage in jeopardy," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien. "This office will continue to aggressively prosecute those individuals who threaten the safety of our nation's soldiers."
The probe began in 2004 after ICE received a tip from Win-Tron Electronics, an East Coast electronics distributor that had been contacted by the defendants' company, Professional Security, about purchasing night vision goggles. Professional Security listed as its business address a private residence owned by Huynh's brother in Huntington Beach, Calif.
According to the indictment, the defendants repeatedly denied in conversations with Win-Tron representatives that the equipment was destined for Vietnam. However, during the course of the probe, investigators determined the defendants illegally exported at least 55 sets of the night vision goggles to Vietnam between January 2004 and February 2005. Some of the goggles were shipped through a freight forwarding company to Bui in Vietnam. Alternatively, Dang and others traveled to Vietnam with the equipment concealed in suitcases.
Today, federal agents arrested Huynh in the Tulsa, Okla., suburb of Broken Arrow where he relocated earlier this year. Huynh is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Tulsa, Okla., this afternoon paving the way for his return to Southern California. A second defendant, Dang, is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Santa Ana, Calif., next month. The third man charged in the case, Bui, remains at large and is believed to be a fugitive in Vietnam.
"One of ICE's top enforcement priorities is preventing U.S. military products and sensitive technology from falling into the hands of those who might seek to harm America or its interests," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "This case is another stellar example of interagency cooperation to combat this threat."
"The night vision goggles identified in this case give the United States military a tactical advantage by illuminating the battlefield and enabling U.S. forces to operate 24/7," said Peter Hughes, special agent in charge for the Southwest Field Office of NCIS. "The illegal sale and export of these restricted items potentially compromises this tactical advantage and is not in the national interest."
"The Department of Commerce's Office of Export Enforcement is responsible for the enforcement of U.S. export control laws," said Anthony Levey, special agent in charge of the Department's Los Angeles Field Office. "This investigation brings to light the continued need to halt the illegal procurement of sensitive U.S. technology."
If convicted of all the charges lodged against them, the defendants face a maximum sentence of up to 45 years in prison.
ICE's Counter Proliferation Investigations Unit is responsible for investigating the illegal export of U.S. military products and sensitive technology. Since early 2006, ICE doubled the number of agents assigned to the Unit, resulting in record numbers of violators being brought to justice. In fiscal year 2008, the Unit made 175 arrests, obtained 179 indictments, and achieved 113 convictions.