Four Filipino immigrants, including a U.S. sailor, and an Iranian living in England have been arrested for allegedly stealing and illegally shipping F14 fighter parts to Iran, federal officials said today.
U.S. Customs, FBI, Navy and Justice Department officials said the "international smuggling ring . . . spanned several years" and was able to export untold amounts of parts before being detected late last year.
In the last seven months, investigators intercepted "over a dozen cartons containing hundreds of pounds and over two dozen separate parts," including some valued at more than $50,000 apiece.
Three San Diego residents, Primitivo Baluyat Cayabyab, 36, an aviation storekeeper assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk; Pedro Manansala Quito, 60, a civilian Navy warehouse worker, and Franklin Pangilinan Agustin, 47, an illegal alien who ran an insurance business, were arraigned today before U.S. Magistrate Roger Curtis McKee on charges of conspiracy, theft and interstate transportation of stolen property, exportation of war materials and defense articles, and false declarations. Each is being held without bail.
Also arrested on similar charges were Edgardo Pangilinan Agustin, 45, Franklin's brother and a resident of Jamaica, N.Y., and an unidentified Iranian national in Britain. Court papers alleged that Saeid Asefi Inanlou, 36, of Middlesex, England, communicated often with the San Diego residents who were arrested.
Iran purchased several F14s during the reign of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but the United States cut off shipments of spare parts after the hostile revolutionary government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took over six years ago.
Parts similar to those stolen are still available to governments friendly to the United States and have previously been in Iranian hands, so the thefts are not considered a serious breach of national security, San Diego FBI chief Gary L. Penrith said.
"We think they were a bunch of thieves," U.S. Customs regional commissioner Quintin Villanueva said of the accused smugglers. "Their motivation was money."
He said they used two fictitious companies, Pierre Walter Ltd. and Ward International, as fronts for the smuggling operation.
The parts were shipped from California to New York to London to Iran in boxes labeled medical supplies or automobile parts.
Agents traced them back to naval facilities in California, Virginia and the Philippines, and to two other aircraft carriers, the Carl Vinson and the Ranger, as well as the Kitty Hawk.
The officials said they are continuing to look for other members of the ring and are trying to identify and seize their profits. Excerpts of wiretapped telephone conversations quoted in court papers indicate active efforts to find more sources of parts for Iranian forces fighting Iraq.
Franklin Agustin told one caller, identified only as Manuel, "Do you know anybody in Teledyne? . . . . I have an order for there for Teledyne . . . . The camera four now are badly, badly needed." Manuel said, "Yes, they're losing in the war."