SEATTLE - A New Zealand man who traveled to Seattle last year to take possession of export-restricted parts designed for missile and space applications was sentenced Thursday to two years in federal prison for conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act, following a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
William Ali, 38, has been in federal custody since his arrest April 11, 2016, by HSI special agents. At Thursday’s sentencing, U.S. District Judge Thomas S. Zilly said, “You knew that if you did it you could go to jail and you proceeded to do it…you laughed and you were undeterred in your decision to come here.”
“Protecting national security is job one for United States Attorneys,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “This defendant tried to evade our export control laws to transfer highly sensitive products to China. We will continue to work closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and our other law enforcement partners to ensure our national assets do not end up in the wrong hands.”
According to records in the case and testimony presented at trial, Ali emailed several companies and distributors in April 2015 about purchasing certain accelerometers that are designed for use in spacecraft and missile navigation. These accelerometers cannot be exported from the United States without a license from the U.S. State Department, which Ali did not have. HSI learned of Ali’s inquiries and began an investigation.
Over the next year, Ali communicated by phone and email with an HSI undercover special agent, and with a person in China known in his emails as “Michael.” Michael was the person seeking the accelerometers, as well as certain gyroscopes that are designed for military use. Ali was working to find a way to purchase the devices and transport them secretly to Michael in China. In multiple emails, Ali made clear he was aware that export of the accelerometers and gyroscopes was illegal. Ali sent the undercover agent nearly $25,000 for the devices – money he got from Michael. Ali traveled to Seattle and met with the undercover HSI special agent April 11, 2016, at a downtown hotel. Shortly after Ali took possession of the devices he was arrested. Ali had with him an airline ticket to Hong Kong and a visa to travel to China.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Woods and Rebecca Cohen.