An Accokeek businessman is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Commerce for allegedly selling high-technology equipment to Eastern Bloc countries, department officials and the man's lawyer confirmed yesterday.
D. Frank Bazzarre, a former chairman and cofounder of Technics Inc., a San Jose, Calif.-based company that manufactures equipment for use in making computers, is being investigated for possibly violating the Export Administration Act, a federal law that bars U.S. firms and individuals from selling to the Soviets and other Eastern Bloc countries certain high-technology goods that could have military applications.
Bazzarre and his wife Carol disappeared in September 1983 after federal investigators searched Technics' Alexandria office. According to an NBC television report this week, the couple recently left London and is living in Vienna.
Bazzarre is suspected of having sold goods made by Technics to Xenon, an Austrian firm that allegedly funneled the goods to Eastern Bloc countries, according to Technics President Thomas Brandt, who said he has spoken to federal investigators. Brandt said that Bazzarre is also alleged to have used his position with Technics to buy goods from other companies for resale to Xenon and eventual shipment to the Eastern Bloc.
Plato Cacheris, a Washington lawyer hired last year by Bazzarre, said yesterday that his client is under investigation, but that Bazzarre "never sold directly to the Soviet Union." Cacheris said Bazzarre "had no affirmative knowledge that the equipment was going behind the Iron Curtain." The lawyer also said Bazzarre is currently employed overseas, but "he doesn't do business with any of those companies now."
Austria is one of 13 countries that has not routinely cooperated with U.S. laws prohibiting distribution of high-tech products to those countries and is home to companies that buy goods from the West for resale in Eastern Europe.
Xenon was an authorized sales representative for Technics until the company severed its ties with Xenon this year, Brandt said. He said the Commerce Department investigation prompted Technics to stop doing business in Europe.
Brandt said that as a meeting of the Technics board was about to start in the District of Columbia in September 1983, Bazzarre received a telephone call from a secretary at his Alexandria office. He said he later learned that at that same time federal marshals were at the Alexandria office with a search warrant.
"He excused himself from the room, and wasn't seen or heard from for the following year," Brandt said, adding that Bazzarre's lawyer sent the company a letter informing it that Bazzarre was resigning as chairman. He said Bazzarre remains a "significant" shareholder in the 13-year-old company.
Brandt said that the company makes plasma etching systems and ion beam systems, used to make integrated circuits for computers and other electronic equipment, that are among those restricted for sale to communist countries.
Neighbors of Bazzarre and his wife in Accokeek, a rural community in southern Prince George's County, said the couple started to spend a great deal of money about four years ago.
"They were new rich," one neighbor said. "They didn't keep it quiet."
The neighbor said that she had worried about where the Bazzarres had been, but assumed that the couple, who traveled frequently, were away on an extended vacation.
Since the disclosure of the Commerce Department investigation, she said, "At least now we know they're not buried in their basement, or imprisoned in some foreign country."