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February 7, 2024Baltimore, MD, United StatesNational Security

HSI Baltimore investigation leads to guilty plea for 20-year fugitive for conspiring to export defense equipment to Iran

Defendant evaded prosecution for 20 years - until his 2023 arrest in Rome
En-Wei Eric Chang had been listed as one of HSI’s most wanted fugitives. He evaded captivity for 20 years until his apprehension in Rome in April 2023.

BALTIMORE – An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore field office and Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic field office led to En-Wei Eric Chang pleading guilty to a federal conspiracy charge, related to the export of defense materials to Iran. Such materials were embargoed under the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). Chang, a 48-year-old citizen of the United States and the Republic of Taiwan who had been a fugitive from justice in the U.S. for 20 years, entered the guilty plea Jan. 31 at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Maryland. Chang had been on HSI’s list of most wanted fugitives.

“Justice may have been delayed, but it was not denied. Mr. Chang evaded capture and prosecution for two decades but eventually, his past caught up to him.” said Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of HSI Baltimore. “Thanks to the relentless work of HSI Baltimore, DCIS, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, our resolve to bring Mr. Chang to justice remained steadfast, for the safety and security of our country. We must not allow export controlled items and technology to end up in the hands of rogue states and dangerous individuals.”

Exporting arms, munitions, military aircraft parts, and related components and technology from the United States is strictly controlled. The Munitions List is a catalog of designated “defense articles” which are subject to certain export and import restrictions. Any person who intends to export defense articles on the Munitions List from the United States is required to first obtain a license and must identify in the required license application the ultimate and final destination of the goods. At the time of the conspiracy, it was the policy of the United States to deny licenses, other approvals, and exports of defense articles destined for Iran.

According to the investigation, from January 2002 and March 2003, Chang conspired with David Chu to ship items on the Munitions List to Iran without obtaining the proper licensing. Chu had a business relationship with an Iranian businessman and was the sole individual in contact with the Iranian businessman during the time of the conspiracy. In 2001 Chu became acquainted with Chang through Chang’s work as an electrical component supplier.

The investigation further illustrated that in January 2002, the Iranian businessman requested that Chu research satellite imagery dealers. Chu asked Chang to facilitate this request, and Chang agreed to do so. Shortly thereafter, Chang emailed a Maryland corporation to acquire high-definition satellite space images of Tehran, Iran for export from the United States to Iran. An undercover government agent based in Maryland ultimately responded to Chang, pretending to be a businessman who could help him acquire the satellite images from a defense contractor. The undercover agent told Chang: “if the items are going for end use in Iran, sending them there would be a violation of U.S. law.” Chang wrote back that the images could be sent to Taiwan, and that “from Taiwan to Iran my friend will take care of it.”

“HSI takes all violations of U.S. laws extremely seriously; especially those that threaten the security of our nation,” Harris said. “Mr. Chang, with the help of his co-conspirator, not only attempted to subvert those laws and weaken our national security, he then fled justice and remained a fugitive for 20 years. Mr. Chang couldn’t hide forever, and thanks to the uncompromising work of HSI Baltimore and our law enforcement partners, he will be forced to face the justice system that he sought to flee.”

Chang and the undercover agent communicated over several months regarding the status of the satellite images order. After Chu’s Iranian contact asked Chu to research and source antennas, on March 12, 2002, Chang contacted the undercover agent asking for quotes on antennas and included in his email specific part numbers for cavity-backed spiral antennas with military applications, including related to the detection and surveillance of ground-based radar. These antennas were designated as defense articles on the United States Munitions List. The undercover agent agreed to attempt to source the antennas.

Chang admitted that he knew that the acquisition of the antennas from the United States for export either directly or indirectly to Iran without proper licensing, was a violation of the laws of the United States. Chang also knew that he did not have the proper license or authorization.

As detailed in the investigation, the undercover agent ultimately quoted prices for various models of antennas and noted that the U.S.- based manufacturer “won’t even accept order without approved export license up front.” Chang repeatedly urged the undercover agent to act faster and on July 19, 2002, Chang wrote: “Please understand our final end user is Iran. ‘the country’ They will keep buying the stuff if we can always deliver . . . The Iran guy promises [my co-conspirator, Chu] a 10 million USD business [per] year if we can really do this.”

On July 31, 2002, Chang provided banking information from the undercover agent to Chu to facilitate $6,400 to be transferred to the undercover agent in Maryland as a 50% down payment on the cavity-backed antennas, which would take approximately five months to produce.

The investigation further illustrated that from March 2002 through January 2003, Chang kept in regular contact with the undercover agent regarding the antennas and asked the undercover agent for pricing information that he indicated was requested by his “buyer” in Iran for items that Chang indicated his “buyer” was interested in purchasing. The items included: an anti-submarine and surveillance radar system for installation on helicopters and airplanes; military-grade night-vision goggles for use by pilots; helicopters and helicopter engines; ten handheld laser range-finders; and other military items.

“National security is a top priority, and we will relentlessly pursue and hold accountable those who put us at risk,” said United States Attorney Erek L. Barron.

By January 2003, the cavity-backed spiral antennas had been produced in the United States. Chang, his co-conspirator, David Chu, and the undercover agent agreed to transfer the cavity-backed spiral antennas in Guam, where Chu could take possession of them and transfer them to Iran. In February 2003, Chu travelled to Guam and took possession of the cavity-backed spiral antennas from the undercover agent, then checked his luggage, which contained the antennas, for a flight from Guam to Taipei, Taiwan. Chu was arrested and his luggage was seized by U.S. authorities, before he could board the flight to Taiwan.

The undercover agent, via email, informed Chang of his true identity in March 2003, and told Chang that he had been indicted in the District of Maryland with conspiracy to export U.S. Munitions List items to Iran, and that his co-conspirator Chu was in the custody of the U.S. Marshals. The undercover agent encouraged Chang to turn himself in. A week later, Chang met with U.S. officials in Taiwan who told Chang that he should consider surrendering to the United States on the current charges, but Chang declined to surrender to the United States.

Chang remained a fugitive until his arrest on April 10, 2023, at Rome-Fiumicino International Airport in Italy and subsequent extradition to the United States.

Co-defendant David Chu, age 48, of Monterey Park, California, pleaded guilty to his role in the conspiracy and was sentenced on February 23, 2004, to two years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Chang faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison for the conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett has scheduled sentencing for May 8, 2024 at 11:00 a.m.

The investigation that led to the guilty plea was conducted by HSI Baltimore and DCIS Mid-Atlantic. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.

Anyone with information about potential violations of U.S. sanctions is encouraged to call the HSI Tip Line at 877-4-HSI-TIP. (877-447-4847). The HSI Tip Line is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

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