LOS ANGELES — A retired Marine Corps staff sergeant, who until recently worked in the Marine Aviation Supply Office at Edwards Air Force Base, was arrested by federal agents Monday morning following an undercover probe that allegedly revealed he lied to the government as part of a scheme to sell sensitive military equipment to buyers around the globe.
Sean Elias Sayegh, 41, of Rosamond, was taken into custody at his residence by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Sayegh, who retired from the Marine Corps in December 2011, was named in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury last Friday that charges him with four counts of making false statements. Specifically, the indictment alleges that on four occasions Sayegh made fraudulent claims on U.S. Postal Service customs declaration forms, stating that packages he was shipping contained camera lenses and other camera equipment, when the items were actually laser light interference filters (LIFs). The alleged violations, which occurred between December 2009 and February 2010, involved the shipment of more than 100 LIFs.
LIFs, which are used with military night vision goggles, are on the U.S. Munitions List and cannot legally be exported without a license issued by the Department of State. LIFs protect the optics inside night vision goggles from being damaged by lasers. The technology is considered sufficiently sensitive that the military requires that LIFs be destroyed when they reach the end of their service life.
The Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) initiated the probe into Sayegh's activities after receiving a lead about the possible sale of Munitions List items on eBay. DCIS referred the matter to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). HSI joined the investigation, at the request of NCIS, because of the potential export violations. HSI carried out the undercover investigation.
"These items may look innocuous, but their sophistication makes them highly sought after by our adversaries," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. "They were developed to give America and its allies a strategic military advantage, which is why HSI will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to ensure such technology doesn't fall into the wrong hands."
Sayegh is expected to be arraigned on the indictment Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. Each false statement charge in the indictment carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. Therefore, if he is convicted of the four counts in the indictment, Sayegh would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as a $1 million fine.
Jeffrey Morrow, special agent in charge for NCIS' Southwest Field Office, stated: "One of the U.S. military's greatest advantages is its ability to operate effectively at night when our adversaries cannot. In large part this advantage is reliant on equipment and technologies like former-SSGT Sayegh attempted to sell to unauthorized buyers abroad. Actions like this risk the technological advantage that the U.S. military maintains and for this reason this case is significant. NCIS will work aggressively with our law enforcement partners to stop the compromise of these important technologies."
Chris Hendrickson, special agent in charge, DCIS, Western Field Office, commented: "DCIS will use all tools available – our ability to track worldwide financial dealings, our advanced cyber capabilities and our worldwide law enforcement alliances – to protect America's warfighters and the taxpayers' interests. DCIS and its law enforcement partners are committed to identifying and bringing to justice individuals intent on illegally exporting this country's critical assets at the expense of America's security."
In addition to HSI, NCIS and DCIS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also played a prominent role in the case.
"This type of offense is unjustifiable," said B. Bernard Ferguson, inspector in charge for the Los Angeles Division of USPIS. "U.S. Postal Inspectors will continue to aggressively investigate those who violate the laws meant to protect the Postal Service, its employees and our nation's citizens."
In November 2009, the government announced the Export Control Initiative to streamline the complex system of U.S. export controls and enhance the coordination of efforts to address current security threats. As part of those ongoing reforms, HSI recently established the Long Beach-based Counter Proliferation Investigations Center (CPIC). CPICs are located in strategic cities where the threat of illegal exportations is greatest. The goal of these centers is to better facilitate regional enforcement efforts to target the illegal exportation of sensitive weapons and technology. In addition to DCIS, NCIS, USPIS and CBP, other federal agencies currently participating in the HSI-led initiative include the Department of Commerce's Office of Export Enforcement; the Air Force Office of Special Investigations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the FBI and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Inspector General. The center enables the participating agencies to pool their resources, expertise and intelligence to pursue cases involving export enforcement.