Attorney Calls Witness In Iran Arms Plot Trial ‘Scum’
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ A key witness against seven people accused of plotting to smuggle missiles to Iran is a criminal who threatened to kill the alleged mastermind if he backed out of the plan, a defense attorney said.
Chris Carroll, attorney for Paul Cutter, said in opening arguments Monday that undercover operative Anthony Romano threatened to kill Cutter, his wife and daughter if he did not continue with the alleged plan to smuggle $60 million in U.S. arms and military equipment to Iran for its war against Iraq.
According to court records, Romano, 58, is a former lieutenant in a Buffalo, N.Y., crime family who has an extensive history of fraud and theft convictions and is serving five years’ probation for a 1983 guilty plea on income tax violations.
Prosecutor Stephen Calvacca said Romano ″will tell you that he’s many things, but a traitor he is not.″
On trial in U.S. District Court with Cutter are U.S. Army Lt. Col. Wayne G. Gillespie, two Iranian nationals and three other people.
Gillespie, who works for the U.S. Army Materiel Command at the Pentagon, is accused of participating in the alleged conspiracy and taking a bribe from Cutter.
Harrison Slaughter, Gillespie’s attorney, depicted his client as an innocent man drawn into the scheme by his friend, Cutter.
Others charged in the case are Fadel N. Fadel, 54, and his wife, Farhin Sanai, 52, of Calabasas, Calif.; George Neranchi, of San Francisco; Charles St. Claire, 54, Granada Hills, Calif.; and Hossein Monshizadeh-Azar, 38, of Anaheim, Calif.
Authorities said Ms. Sanai and Monshizadeh-Azar, Iranian nationals, had connections with the Iranian government, which was to pay for the arms. The transaction would have violated a 1979 U.S. law prohibiting arms shipments to Iran.
Calvacca said the government will present videotapes and audio recordings of 11 meetings that principals in the case had with Romano and an undercover FBI agent, Richard Witkowski.
Romano and Witkowski, posing as underworld figures, were approached by Cutter in March and asked to supply the arms, the prosecutor said.
Later, Cutter allegedly contracted to buy 1,140 anti-tank missiles and four F-4 fighter plane surveillance cameras. These were to be shipped from Florida marked as water purification systems aboard a jumbo jet, Calvacca said.
Joel Remland, attorney for Neranchi, said his client merely ran a San Francisco publishing company owned by Cutter. Remland described Cutter as ″manipulative″ and said he pretended to be a ″secret agent″ for the U.S. government, ″putting together some kind of deal with missiles.″
Neranchi was ″very curious″ and became involved unwittingly, Remland said.
All seven defendants were charged with conspiracy and wire fraud. In addition, Gillespie was charged with taking a bribe and Cutter with offering it.