MACON, Georgia — An American supplier was sentenced to more than three years in prison on Wednesday for shipping fighter jet and attack helicopter parts to help repair Iran's aging aircraft fleet.
Michael Todd apologized to the court and said the shipments were aimed at bolstering his struggling business, not threatening national security. But prosecutors said his decision put America's military at risk and a federal judge agreed.
"It's a serious matter that potentially poses a threat to this country," said U.S. District Judge Marc T. Treadwell, who also sentenced Todd to three years of probation and ordered him to pay restitution of more than $100,000.
Todd and another man, Hamid Seifi of Chicago, were charged with being at the center of a complex plot to export military parts for the Bell AH-1 attack helicopter, the UH-1 Huey attack helicopter and the F-4 and F-5 fighter jets to Iranian military officials through other suppliers in Europe and the Middle East.
Prosecutors said Todd sold electronic parts, hydraulic units and other parts from his small supply shop near Macon's airport to a Dubai-based company even though he knew they would ultimately be shipped to Iran. He's also accused of working with Seifi to place orders on behalf of an Iranian firm. Some of the parts were funneled to Iran through a French company, according to court records.
Investigators traced the plot back to November 2008, and said in court records they had an email Todd sent to an employee acknowledging that some of the items were destined to Iran. The parts, which included components for high-tech weaponry, were worth millions of dollars, prosecutors said.
The sentencing came amid increased federal scrutiny into suppliers suspected of working with Iranian officials. The Justice Department announced on Tuesday an indictment against five people and four companies who are charged with plotting to export 6,000 radio control devices to Iran. Authorities say 16 of those items were found in improvised explosive devices in neighboring Iraq.
Todd, who pleaded guilty to the plot in June, said at Wednesday's hearing that "in a moment of weakness I let my ambitions and desire to succeed cloud my better judgment."
Defense attorney Christina Hunt urged the judge to show Todd mercy, arguing that he was instrumental in helping authorities apprehend Seifi after he fled the country. Seifi was sentenced to more than four years in prison in June after pleading guilty to similar charges.
Todd reviewed the complex regulations restricting him from selling certain parts overseas, she said, but "in his zeal to build his business he turned a blind eye" to them.
"He understands better than anyone now why the laws are there. This wasn't a situation where he was trying to support terrorism or hurt the U.S.," she said. "He was just trying to build his business."
Prosecutors countered that Todd's greed clearly put American forces at risk, and urged the judge to impose a stiff sentence.
"He chose to work with the Iranian companies. And yes he did, eventually and potentially, put all of our military personnel in danger," said Jennifer Kolman, an assistant U.S. attorney. "He chose to put people's lives in danger because he wanted money."
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