Federal authorities on Wednesday revealed a major international undercover sting in which Philadelphia-based federal agents arrested an Iranian arms dealer in Eastern Europe and secretly extradited him to the United States.
The Iranian, who has been quietly jailed in a Philadelphia-area prison for nearly two years, pleaded guilty to charges in 2008 and faces up to 140 years in prison.
The case had been sealed from public view while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents scoured the dealer's laptop to pursue hundreds of leads about Iran's covert effort to acquire American military gear.
The 2007 charges against Amir Hossein Ardebili of Shiraz, Iran, were made public in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday morning by the U.S. attorney for Delaware, David C. Weiss, and the assistant secretary of U.S. homeland security for ICE, John Morton.
Ardebili, a former Iranian government procurement official, pleaded guilty May 19, 2008, to violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which essentially prohibits arms and other sales to Iran. He was also charged with money-laundering and conspiracy.
Ardebili, whose nickname online was Alex Dave, negotiated the purchases of 1,000 state-of-the-art radar shifters, 10 gyro chip sensors used in advanced aircraft applications, and a digital air computer for an F-4 aircraft, prosecutors said.
"Ardebili's job was to illegally" acquire military gear "in preparation for war with the United States," said Ed Bradley, the Philadelphia agent in charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.
According to a document filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hall, Ardebili was asked by undercover agents why he wanted the military parts. "If the United States come to war … the government of Iran could defend. … Because they think the war is coming," he replied.
Ardebili's lawyer, Edmund D. Lyons, declined to comment.
Undercover ICE agents in Philadelphia first made first contact with Ardebili in 2004 over the Internet, and he began to request a variety of military gear.
In October 2007, the ICE agents lured Ardebili to an Eastern European country with the promise of buying gyroscopes and radar components.
The ICE agents, posing as shady U.S. arms salesmen, captured their negotiations with Ardebili on videotape, and he was arrested by Georgian police on Oct. 2, 2007. Prosecutors in Wilmington won his extradition to the United States from Georgia in January 2008.