A Georgia man has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for violating U.S.-Iran sanctions. There are many lessons an exporter can draw from this case, the most important one is very basic: never lie to a federal officer or give them any reason to think you’re trying to hide something from them. Go figure.
There is a perception in certain sectors of the exporting community that economic sanctions are not serious business. “Federal agents have bigger fish to fry,” many a prospective client has told me at which point I’ll offer some generally friendly legal advice. If they persist, I respectfully decline to take them as a client. Mark Mason Alexander (a.k.a Musa Mahmood Ahmed), let’s call him MMA, reminds me of such a prospect.
MMA was the owner of Hyrdrajet Technology, a Dalton Georgia company that manufactured custom order liquid or water jet cutting machines (CNCs). CNCs use very high pressure water to precisely slice aluminum, glass, steel. There is a video embedded at the bottom of the post that shows these machines in action.
Why do we care if the Iranians buy CNCs? Because these water cutters have a wide-range set of applications including in defense and related uses. And in the case of MMA, he should have known better. U.S.-Iran sanctions restrict the export of these items to Iran. I think he knew all along and set out to break the law.
According to federal court documents, MMA had a special interest Middle East and Africa sales. Just take a quick look at the very top of Hyrdrajet’s corporate website. And, it appears, he really wanted to export items his pals in Tehran.
Starting on or about 2006, MMA received an e-mail asking for a custom order job for several machines for use in Iran. It appears that MMA knew the sender. This case had all the hallmarks of compliance trouble: false invoices, code words, third country corporations in areas of diversion concern, as well as multiple trips to Iran and the region. There was even a dint or two of potential FCPA violations.
MMA also thought he would never get caught. He maintained rather open and close contact with federal agents throughout the case. Starting in the summer of 2007, he appears to have gladly sat in with BIS agents who stopped in for visit. By this time, he was knee-deep in multiple violations of US-Iran sanctions.
MMA was detained at least two times by Customs after entering the U.S. from the Middle East. At one point he asked the BIS Special Agents for help in securing his seized laptop. Finally in October 2011 he was arrested and last week sentenced to 18 months in the federal pen and three years of probation and community services.
When a DHS and/or Commerce BIS agent makes a “community outreach” visit, invariably, they already suspect something or have enough circumstantial evidence that something may be amiss.
MMA appears as if he just wanted to get caught or, worse, he was one of those people in the exporting community who think Uncle Sam was too busy to bother with little old him and economic sanctions violations. Think again.