Iranian pleads guilty in Minnesota in tech smuggling case
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An Iranian woman pleaded guilty in Minnesota on Friday to conspiring to facilitate the illegal export of communications technology from the U.S. to her home country.
Federal prosecutors say Negar Ghodskani, 40, and others established a front company in Malaysia to illegally obtain restricted technology from companies in Minnesota and Massachusetts, in violation of U.S. law and international sanctions. She was indicted in 2015 in Minnesota and arrested in Australia in 2017, where she became the subject of a long extradition fight. She entered her plea before U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen in Minneapolis. A sentencing date was not set.
Her attorney, Robert Richman, said she accepted the plea agreement “because she wanted to accept responsibility and be sentenced.”
Richman indicated the toll of the long legal fight was why she decided to stop resisting extradition. She arrived in the U.S. last month.
Under the plea agreement filed Friday, Ghodskani agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S., which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other charges. The plea agreement does not include a sentencing recommendation, but the nonbinding federal sentencing guidelines suggest a sentence of 46 to 57 months and a fine up to $200,000.
“We intend to ask the judge to sentence her to time served,” Richman said. “She has already been in custody for over two years. ... By the time she gets sentenced it will be 2½ years in custody. She had a baby while she was in custody. She has gone through a huge amount. We believe the appropriate disposition is to release her and send her on her way back to Iran.”
A co-defendant, Alireza Jalali, pleaded guilty in November 2017. The judge sentenced him in March 2018 to 15 months in prison, court records show.
According to the indictment and the plea agreement, Ghodskani worked for a Tehran, Iran-based company, Fanavar Moj Khava, also known as Fana Moj, which specializes in broadcast and microwave communications equipment, and supplies microwave radio systems and wireless broadband service in Iran. Its principal customer is the government-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting company.
Prosecutors said Ghodskani, Jalali and others established Green Wave Telecommunication in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a front for buying restricted equipment and unlawfully reshipping it to Fana Moj in Tehran. The Treasury Department put Fana Moj on a list of banned companies in 2017, accusing it of providing support to the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The 2015 indictment did not name the Minnesota or Massachusetts companies involved, but said the circuits that the conspirators bought from them in 2011 included analog-to-digital converters and frequency synthesizers.