Ex-defense contractor pleads guilty to sending information about US military jets to Iran

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — A former defense contractor accused of sending sensitive information about U.S. military jet programs to his native Iran in an effort to land a job there pleaded guilty on Wednesday.

Mozaffar Khazaee entered his plea to violating the Arms Export Control Act in federal court and faces up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing for Khazaee, who's 60, is set for May.

Federal prosecutors said Khazaee, who used to live in Manchester, stole information about engines used in the F35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor programs from three employers, including East Hartford-based Pratt & Whitney. He tried to use that information to get a job with multiple state-controlled universities in Iran from 2009 to 2013, authorities said.

Khazaee sent emails with information about the Joint Strike Fighter program to a person in Iran in November and December 2009, prosecutors said. In the emails, Khazaee described the knowledge and skills he obtained while working for the U.S. defense contractors, they said.

Court documents show that in one email Khazaee wrote to the person in Iran that "some of these are very controlled ... and I am taking (a) big risk. Again please after downloading these two Power Point files delete everything immediately."

In November 2013, customs agents in Long Beach, California, seized a shipment prepared by Khazaee that was headed to Iran. Prosecutors said the shipment included numerous boxes and digital media containing thousands of documents consisting of sensitive technical manuals, specification sheets, technical drawings and other proprietary material relating to military jet engines.

Khazaee was arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey in January 2014 before boarding a flight on a trip to Iran. Authorities said they found similar sensitive information on jet engines in his luggage.

"The illegal export of our military technology compromises U.S. national security and reduces the advantages our armed forces currently possess," U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly said in a statement. "We will aggressively investigate and hold accountable those who attempt to steal trade secrets and sensitive military technology from U.S. industries, whether for their own personal gain or for the benefit of foreign actors."

Khazaee's lawyer, Hubert Santos, has said the government wrongly inferred that Khazaee was trying to help the Iranian government and falsely accused him because he's an Iranian citizen. He said Khazaee was trying to get a job as a professor and was trying to impress a university in Iran.

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