LOUISVILLE, Ky. — An Iranian national and an American citizen who worked as an airline pilot pleaded guilty Monday in a plot to ship helicopters and aircraft parts for Iran's state-run civilian airline, in violation of the U.S. trade embargo.
Their scheme, hatched in 2007 and which continued until 2011, was foiled before the defendants made any deliveries, federal authorities said. The men had hoped to make millions by selling the parts to Iran Air, which is owned by the Iranian government, authorities said. Several of Iran Air's planes are made by U.S.-based Boeing, according to the airline's website.
None of the parts or aircraft was intended for the military, prosecutors said.
Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Iran Air for providing material support and services to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to federal prosecutors.
U.S. Attorney David J. Hale said in a news release that circumventing the embargo is a serious matter and commended the FBI for its work disrupting the scheme.
The defendants were identified as Hamid Asefi, a 68-year-old Iranian citizen, and 53-year-old Behzad "Tony" Karimian, a U.S. citizen living in Louisville who holds a valid Iranian passport and has worked as a pilot for the now-defunct Mesaba Airlines, which had been based in Minneapolis.
They were charged with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act for exporting, selling, or causing the export or sale of aircraft and aircraft parts in violation of U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.
The men, arrested earlier this year, entered guilty pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge James D. Moyer. Each faces up to 40 years in prison and fines of $500,000 following their pleas to a two-count indictment unsealed before their hearing.
The scheme was meant "to illegally enrich the conspirators" by supplying aircraft and aircraft parts to Iran, the indictment said. They were negotiating to obtain a GE aircraft engine for nearly $2 million and had located a helicopter being offered for about $2.4 million, it said.