Six people, including a U.S. Army artillery specialist and a purported Iranian government official, were charged yesterday with plotting to illegally ship sophisticated anti-tank missiles to Iran, the FBI said.
Lt. Col. Wayne Gordon Gillespie, 46, who is assigned to the Army Materiel Command in Alexandria, was arrested at his Fairfax County home Wednesday night by the FBI. He is alleged to have inspected two TOW surface-to-surface missiles in Orlando, Fla., in late June for the accused conspirators, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal courts in Alexandria, Orlando, Los Angeles and San Jose.
The arms were allegedly part of a planned $9 million illegal shipment of more than 1,000 missiles to Iran in violation of U.S. export laws and in defiance of a U.S. arms embargo against that country, the affidavit states. Actually, the missiles Gillespie inspected were supplied by an undercover FBI agent posing as an arms dealer, according to the affidavit.
Iran has been seeking arms on the international market to press its almost 5-year-old war against Iraq. According to the affidavit, the purported Iranian official purchasing the arms, Amir Hosseni, told undercover agent Richard Witkowski that "price was not important; his country needed weapons that would work, as a result of the war they were presently engaged in."
The affidavit said two of the men charged yesterday approached Witkowski with a shopping list of weapons that included Sidewinder and French-made Exocet missiles and F4 jet engines and parts for which they were willing to pay millions of dollars.
Arrested in California and Florida were Paul S. Cutter, 47, also known as Paul Sjeklocha, an expert in military technology; Lebanese national Fadel N. Fadel, 54; his Iranian-born wife Farhin Sanai, 52; George Neranchi, a California magazine publisher, and Hosseni. All those arrested have been charged with conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act.
State Department officials said yesterday they had no record of an Iranian government official named Amir Hosseni.
A seventh person who allegedly took part in the conspiracy, Charles St. Clair of Los Angeles, is a fugitive. St. Clair told Witkowski that he was a partner with Cutter in selling arms and had previously done business with Sanai, according to the affidavit. Officials declined to say where they were looking for St. Clair, but a reliable source said he is believed to be in Hong Kong.
FBI officials said there was no indication that the case was related to that of four men arrested last month for allegedly stealing and illegally shipping F14 jet fighter parts to Iran. But as a result of that case, some of the alleged conspirators arrested yesterday became nervous and asked FBI agent Witkowski whether he was working for the government, said FBI Assistant Director Bill Baker.
"The undercover agent just had to joke about it," Baker said. "He said, 'No, are you?' "
According to FBI affidavits, this is how the alleged conspiracy unfolded:
Witkowski met with St. Clair at Orlando International Airport on March 11. St. Clair told Witkowski that he wanted to purchase arms for Iran that could be shipped through Portugal, Spain or Tunisia. He told him that Cutter was his partner in the deal.
On April 8, Cutter, a Yugoslavia native who speaks fluent Russian, met Witkowski and told him that he had been dealing in arms with Iran for the past two years, making $6 million to $8 million in profit.
He asked Witkowski to provide him with a shipment of 1,280 Sidewinder, Sparrow, Harpoon and Phoenix missiles. Cutter also wanted 30 French-made Exocet missiles. He asked Witkowski to get two Canadian passports so that the Iranian minister of procurement, Hussein Zohrei, could visit the United States and inspect the missiles.
State Department officials said they know of no minister of procurement in Iran and have no record of Zohrei.
Saeed Imami, spokesman for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations, said yesterday that Iran does not have a minister of procurement and that he had never heard of Hussein Zohrei or Amir Hosseni.
"I'm sure that the government of Iran is not involved, because they would not send an official to the United States," Imami said. However, he noted, "Some of the arms they need, they buy on the black market." He said he did not know whether such transactions have taken place in the United States.
At one meeting, Cutter told FBI agent Witkowski that they had to be careful "because people were getting arrested every day for this kind of a transaction," the affidavit said.
In June, Witkowski met Cutter and one of his alleged customers, Farhin Sanai of Calabasas, Calif. Sanai entered the United States in February 1974, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. She is now a permanent resident alien, according to government officials.
The affidavit said Sanai told Witkowski that in addition to the missiles, Iran wanted camera parts for its F4 jet fighters. At this meeting a contract was drawn up in which it was agreed that Witkowski "and his principals" would furnish 1,140 TOW missiles at a price of $8,000 each for a total of $9.1 million, the affidavit said.
According to Army Materiel Command spokesman Don McClow, the Pentagon pays between $8,069 and $9,822 for TOW missiles, depending on the model. TOW stands for tube-launched, optically tracked, wire command-link guided missiles. The four-foot-long weapons weigh about 60 pounds each and are shot from 205-pound launchers.
The contract allegedly was contingent on having a "responsible representative" of Cutter go to Orlando to inspect a sample missile. Cutter would then send a Boeing 747 to pick up the rest of the shipment, the affidavit said.
The affidavit provided this picture of the final month of the alleged conspiracy:
On June 29, Gillespie arrived in Orlando to inspect the missiles, and he did so in the presence of Cutter and Witkowski. When Gillespie learned Witkowski had 1,140 missiles to export, Gillespie replied "that it will be difficult to get that number of missiles out of the country."
Gillespie took the serial and lot numbers of the missiles to look them up in office manuals so "he would be able to determine if these particular lots had an inordinate amount of duds."
On July 14, Witkowski went to Sanai's home in Calabasas, where he met with Sanai, Fadel, Cutter and Amir Hosseni. Sanai described Hosseni as a high-ranking Iranian government official who was in the United States for 10 days. Cutter told those present that the missile deal was illegal and that he could " 'get up to 15 years in prison' for doing the deal."
Witkowski, who was tape-recording the meeting, told the others he "steals the items and once he obtains them he can't put them back."
At a meeting three days later, Cutter told Witkowski that "Gillespie could be trusted and he would keep his mouth shut, and if he didn't, he could really get hung, because he knew what was going on." Cutter told the FBI agent that he had "used Gillespie before in France and Germany to check items for him."
On Tuesday, Witkowski was told that Sanai, Cutter and his business associate George Neranchi would arrive in Orlando the next day to make arrangements for flying the missiles to Iran. Cutter and Fadel were arrested in an Orlando hotel at 11:20 p.m. Wednesday. A few hours earlier Sanai was arrested at her California home and Hosseni was arrested at a friend's home in Anaheim, Calif., according to FBI officials and government prosecutors.
Gillespie, a native of Welch, W.Va., is assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for International Programs at the Materiel Command, spokesmen there said. In that position, which he has held since May 1982, he serves as research and development coordinator and represents the Command in discussions with Britain, West Germany and France about standardizing equipment and weapons systems.
Previously, Gillespie, who graduated from West Point in 1960, served with an air defense battalion in Vietnam, worked in West Germany for the Army's European Command, and taught in the foreign language department at West Point.
Emilie McIntire, Gillespie's neighbor on Ambassador Way in Fairfax, said Gillespie "seemed settled . . . . He was a family man. They seemed like ordinary people." McIntire said she talked to Gillespie about such things as the neighborhood and his garden but never discussed his work or politics.
"The last time I talked to him was about his gladioli," she said.
Gillespie described Cutter to Witkowski as a college professor who has a doctorate in Soviet studies, with a particular expertise in Soviet military affairs, according to the FBI affidavit. A government prosecutor said yesterday that Cutter published articles in the July 1984 issue of Military Science & Technology and in the September 1984 issue of C4I/Countermeasures magazine. C4I is a plastic explosive. Cutter is listed in a directory of publications as the editor of Military Science & Technology, but the journal's telephone, in Santa Clara, Calif., has been disconnected.
Gillespie was charged before U.S. Magistrate W. Curtis Sewell in Alexandria yesterday with conspiracy to violate U.S. arms export laws. He waived his rights to hearings in Alexandria, and Sewell set bond at $100,000. Gillespie was unable to raise the money and remained in custody. Sewell ordered him to appear in Orlando after authorities there send for him.
Neranchi was released on a $25,000 personal recognizance bond, according to the U.S. attorney in San Francisco. The other four were held without bond.
The maximum penalty for conspiracy is a $10,000 fine and five years' imprisonment.