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Counter-Proliferation Investigations


One of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) highest priorities is to prevent illicit procurement networks, terrorist groups, and hostile nations from illegally obtaining U.S. military products, sensitive dual-use technology, weapons of mass destruction, or chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Counter-Proliferation Investigations (CPI) Program oversees a broad range of investigative activities related to such violations. It enforces U.S. laws involving the export of military items and controlled dual-use goods as well as exports to sanctioned or embargoed countries.

In fiscal year 2012, HSI special agents initiated more than 1,800 CPI, made 517 arrests, indicted 568 individuals, obtained 399 convictions, and seized millions of dollars' worth of military weaponry and other highly sensitive commodities. These efforts significantly contributed to preventing sensitive U.S. technologies and weaponry from reaching the hands of terrorists, hostile countries, and violent criminal organizations.

Through an industry and academic outreach program called Project Shield America, HSI special agents conduct presentations for U.S. manufacturers and exporters of arms and sensitive technology. The program provides an overview of export laws and solicits the private industry's assistance in preventing illegal foreign acquisition of their products. Since the program's inception in late 2001, HSI special agents have conducted more than 21,000 industry outreach presentations.

Notable ICE CPI Cases

Hawk Air Defense Missile Batteries to Iran – On Jan. 9, 2013, British businessman Christopher Tappin was sentenced in the Western District of Texas to serve 33 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $11,357 for aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles in connection with his efforts to export to Iran special components of the Hawk Air Defense Missile. Tappin pleaded guilty on Nov. 1, 2012, admitting that from December 2005 to January 2007, he aided and abetted others, including his Cyprus-based business associate Robert Gibson, and Robert Caldwell, of Portland, Ore., in an attempt to export Zinc/Silver Oxide Reserve Batteries to Iran. These particular batteries, a special component of the Hawk Air Defense Missile, are on the U.S. Munitions List and require a license for export from the United States. Tappin was first charged in a federal indictment on Feb. 7, 2007. He was extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States for prosecution on Feb. 24, 2012. On Nov. 9, 2007, his co-defendant Robert Caldwell was sentenced in the Western District of Texas to 20 months in prison for his role in the scheme. Robert Gibson was sentenced on Aug. 24, 2007 to a two-year prison term for his role in the scheme.

Ammunition to Mexico – On Nov. 15, 2012, Bryan Nelson Schonberg was sentenced in the Western District of Texas to four years in prison for conspiracy to smuggle ammunition from the United States, conspiracy to smuggle high-capacity firearms magazines, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. On Aug. 15, 2012, Schonberg pleaded guilty to the charges, admitting that from July 2010 to July 2012, he and others conspired to smuggle ammunition for AK-47 and AR-15 type firearms as well as high-capacity firearms magazines from the United State to Mexico.

Stolen Tactical Laser Illuminators Overseas – On Oct. 30, 2012, Fidel Ignacio Cisneros was sentenced in the Middle District of Florida to 46 months in prison followed by two years supervised release for violating the Arms Export Control Act. Cisneros, a former master sergeant in the U.S. Army, pleaded guilty to the charge on July 31, 2012. According to court documents, from 2007 to 2010, Cisneros served as a soldier in the U.S. Army, where he performed various missions in that capacity, in Iraq and elsewhere. During his deployment, Cisneros stole three Acquired Tactical Illuminating Laser Aimers (Atilla 200 lasers), an ACOG rifle scope, and other items. He brought all of the items back to Orlando without first obtaining permission from the Department of Defense. Using his eBay account, Cisneros auctioned and shipped (often to overseas locations) Atilla 200 lasers, a PEQ AN/PEQ-14 night vision pointer illuminator, a Thuraya Hughes 7101 Satellite phone GSM+GPS, and a Thuraya Satellite phone docker FDU 2500 without obtaining an export license. Federal law enforcement agents in the United States and in Japan subsequently recovered all of the items Cisneros sold. Cisneros was charged in a May 16, 2012 indictment.

Radiation-Hardened Aerospace Technology to China – On Sept. 30, 2011, Hong Wei Xian, aka "Harry Zan," and Li Li, aka "Lea Li," citizens of China, were sentenced in the Eastern District of Virginia to 24 months in prison for conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act and conspiracy to smuggle goods unlawfully from the United States, in connection with their efforts to export to China radiation-hardened microchips that are used in satellite systems and are classified as defense articles. Zan and Li operated a company in China called Beijing Starcreates Space Science and Technology Development Company Limited. The defendants ultimately attempted to purchase 40 programmable read-only microchips.

Military Flight Simulation Technology to Iran – On Sept. 26, 2011, Hok Shek Chan, a citizen of Hong Kong, was sentenced in the District of Massachusetts to three and a half years in prison for conspiring to obtain components for C-130 military flight simulators from the United States for delivery to Iran. On March 25, 2010, the indictment was unsealed, charging Chan and two citizens of Malaysia, Wong Fook Loy and Ngo Tek Chai, with conspiring to and attempting to illegally export munitions. Chan had conspired with Loy, Chai and others to cause the export of 10 indicator servo tachometers used in C-130 military flight simulators from the United States for use in Iran.

Arms Exports to Russia – On July 21, 2011, Sergey Korznikov, a citizen of Russia, was sentenced in the Middle District of Pennsylvania to six months in prison and two years supervised release for conspiracy to smuggle military articles from the U.S. to Russia. On July 29, 2010, co-defendant Mark Komoroski, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced to 32 months in prison and ordered to pay $10,000 for conspiring to smuggle military equipment to Russia. Korznikov, Komoroski and two companies, D&R Sports Center and Tactica Limited, were charged in a 2008 superseding indictment with conspiring to smuggle military equipment, including more than 1,000 rifle scopes, magazines for firearms, face shields and other military equipment from the U.S. to Russia for resale.

Vacuum Pumps with Potential Nuclear Applications to Iran – On July 6, 2011, Jirair Avanessian was sentenced to 18 months in prison in connection with his role in a conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iran trade embargo, including smuggling and money laundering. Avanessian was also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and forfeit the proceeds of his criminal activity. In July 2010, Avanessian pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally export specialized vacuum pump equipment to Iran in violation of the Iranian Transaction Regulations and other regulations. Another suspect in the case, Amirhossein Sairafi, a citizen of Iran, was arrested by German authorities and subsequently extradited to the U.S. Sairafi pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the U.S., money laundering and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. In March 2011, Sairafi was sentenced to 41 months in prison. A third conspirator, Farhad Masoumian, believed to be in Iran, who was charged along with Avanessian, remains at large. Allegedly, Masoumian directed Avanessian to procure and illegally export vacuum pump equipment using false shipping documentation to avoid inspection or detection. The equipment was shipped to a company called AVAC in the United Arab Emirates where Sairafi was the managing director. Once Sairafi received the equipment, he would forward it to Masoumian in Iran.

Tactical SUVs Armed with M134 Mini-Guns to Turkmenistan – On Feb. 4, 2011, Ruslan Gilchenko, who represents a company in Slovenia, was sentenced in the District of Arizona to 18 months in prison and three years supervised release for conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act. A February 24, 2010, indictment charged Gilchenko and Victor Dobrogaiev with conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act, money laundering and fraud charges. Gilchenko and Dobrogaiev attempted to obtain three sport utility vehicles outfitted with M134 mini-guns, fully automatic defense suppression weapons that fire at a rate of 3,000 rounds per minute, for illegal export to Turkmenistan. As part of the conspiracy, the defendants agreed to pay $1.2 million to purchase three armed vehicles and forwarded $340,000 to sellers in the United States as a down payment. On Sept. 29, 2010, Gilchenko pleaded guilty to the conspiracy count.

Electronics Used in Military Radar & Electronic Warfare to China – On Jan. 27, 2011, Yufeing Wei was sentenced in the District of Massachusetts to 36 months in prison. On Jan. 26, 2011, codefendant Zhen Zhou Wu was sentenced to 97 months in prison. May 17, 2010, Wu, Wei and Chitron Electronics, Inc., with an office in Massachusetts, were convicted for conspiring to violate U.S. export laws over a ten year period and illegally exporting defense articles and export controlled electronics equipment from the U.S. to China. Several Chinese military entities received the equipment. Wu and Wei were also convicted of filing false shipping documents with the U.S. government.

Stealth Missile Designs and Military Technical Data to China – On Jan. 24, 2011, Noshir Gowadia, of Hawaii, was sentenced in the District of Hawaii to 32 years in prison for communicating classified national defense information to China, illegally exporting military technical data, money laundering, filing false tax returns and other offenses. On Aug. 9, 2010, Gowadia was found guilty of 14 criminal violations following a 40-day federal trial in Hawaii. Evidence at trial revealed that from July 2003 to June 2005, Gowadia took six trips to China to provide defense services in the form of design, test support and test data analysis of certain technologies to develop a stealthy exhaust nozzle for one of China's cruise missile systems. Gowadia was an engineer with Northrop Grumman Corporation from 1968 to 1986 and contributed to the development of the propulsion system and low observable capabilities of the B-2 bomber.

2,000 AK-47 Assault Rifles to Somalia – On Jan. 7, 2011, Chanoch Miller, a citizen of Israel, was sentenced in the Southern District of Florida to 18 months of confinement and three years supervised release. Joseph O'Toole, a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel F-4 Fighter pilot, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison. Both individuals conspired to sell thousands of assault rifles to war torn Somalia, an embargoed nation, without having first obtained a license or written approval from the State Department, violating the Arms Export Control Act.

Rocket Propulsion Systems, Engines and Technology to South Korea – On Oct. 20, 2010, Juwhan Yun, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Korea, was sentenced in the Southern District of Florida to 57 months in prison and three years supervised release. On May 24, 2010, Yun pleaded guilty to attempting to illegally export defense articles to South Korea. Yun attempted to export RD-180 rocket propulsion systems, engines and technology that are on the U.S. Munitions List and the Missile Technology Control Regime Annex.

Sensitive Military Encryption Technology to China – On Sept.13, 2010, Chi Tong Kuok, a resident of Macau, China, was sentenced in the Southern District of California to 96 months in prison for trying to acquire sensitive defense technology used in encrypted U.S. military or government communications for China. A July 2009 multi-count indictment charged Kuok with conspiracy to export defense articles and smuggle goods from the United States, attempting to export defense articles without a license and money laundering.

Nuclear-Related Equipment to Iran – On July 29, 2010, Mahmoud Yadegari was sentenced in a Canadian court to four years, three months incarceration for attempting to export pressure transducers to Iran. Yadegari purchased the pressure transducers from a company in Massachusetts and had them exported to Canada where he attempted to forward them to Iran through the United Arab Emirates. Pressure transducers have applications in the production of enriched uranium, a critical step in creating nuclear energy and weapons. Company officials in Massachusetts alerted HSI to the purchases. HSI, in turn, coordinated its investigation with Canadian authorities.

Department of Justice, "Summary of Major US Export Enforcement, Economic espionage, trade secret and embargo-related criminal cases (Jan. 2007 to the present: updated Feb. 14, 2013)." Page 3.

Updated: 01/07/2021