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Iranian businessman imprisoned for buying weapons material from Hudson Valley company

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An Iranian businessman who was indicted in 2013 for procuring material from a Hudson Valley supplier for making weapons of mass destruction has been sentenced to prison.

U.S. District Judge Vincent L. Briccetti sentenced Behzad Pourghannad, 66, to 20 months in prison on Nov. 13 in White Plains federal court for conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

“The defendant knew the carbon fiber he was working to illegally procure and export was destined for use in Iran’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program,” Gillian S. Grossman, an assistant U.S. attorney, states in a sentencing memorandum, “… and the defendant had a keen understanding of the specific ways in which carbon fiber is used to manufacture WMDs for Iran.”

weapons of mass destruction Hudson valleyCarbon fiber is a super-strong material used in making gas centrifuges for enriching uranium, as well as for making parts for military aircraft and missiles.

The Orange County business that shipped the material is not identified in court papers, but the details of the scheme are similar to a case filed in 2012 against Peter Gromacki, 55, of Middletown, who ran Performance Engineered Nonwovens LLC from a home office. He was charged with conspiring to export carbon fiber to China, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three months in prison and three years of supervised release.

In 2008 and 2013, Pourghannad worked with Iranians Ali Reza Shokri and Farzin Faridmanesh to buy thousands of kilograms of carbon fiber from U.S. manufacturers, according to the indictment. They arranged to export the material to intermediary countries in Europe and Asia and falsified shipping records to disguise the contents of the shipments. Most of the carbon fiber was obtained from the Orange County business.

Pourghannad helped coordinate the shipments and guaranteed the payments.

Two shipments were intercepted, and in 2017 Pourghannad was arrested in Germany on an Interpol red notice issued in this case. He served 30 months in prison in Germany, was extradited to the U.S. this past July, and pleaded guilty.

Shokri and Faridmanesh have never been caught.

Pourghannad’s lawyer, James E. Neuman of Manhattan, argued in a sentencing memorandum that his client should be sentenced only for the time already served in Germany.

“There is no evidence that Mr. Pourghannad has ever been a terrorist or endorsed the actual use of such weapons,” Neuman stated, and “apparently none of the carbon fiber he conspired to export actually found its way into Iran.”

He had never been arrested before, Neuman stated, and his prison time in Germany isolated him from his culture and family and caused great stress on the family. For nearly 27 months, his client was in solitary confinement.

“Additional time is simply unnecessary,” according to Neuman, “…for the sake of specific deterrence.”

The prosecutor recommended a prison sentence of 46 to 57 months. Pourghannad had threatened national security for five years, Grossman stated in his sentencing memo.

He played a critical role in the scheme, and he knew that Shokri was part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a terrorist organization. The prosecutor also disputed that Germany held the defendant in solitary confinement.

“It is critically important to send a message to similarly situated individuals that … violators who are caught will face serious consequences,” Grossman states, “…particularly where, as here, the sanctions-evasion scheme sought to support and advance Iran’s WMD program.”

Briccetti ordered the 20-month sentence to begin on July 15, when Pourghannad was taken into custody, and for the prisoner to be deported when the prison term ends.

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