By Richard Weizel
HARTFORD, Conn. (Reuters) - A dual U.S.-Iranian citizen who pleaded guilty to trying to export sensitive information about U.S. military jets to his native Iran could be sentenced to up to 10 years in federal prison at a hearing on Friday.
Mozaffar Khazaee, who had worked as an engineer at U.S. defense contractor Pratt & Whitney, was arrested in January 2014 as he tried to leave the country with sensitive material about the engines for the U.S. Air Force's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor aircraft in his luggage.
Khazaee also had exchanged e-mails containing information about the programs with Iranian contacts.
While he pleaded guilty to the charges, Khazaee maintained in court papers that he sent information on the jets as part of a presentation he had prepared while seeking a job with an Iranian university after being laid off by his prior employer, a unit of diversified manufacturer United Technologies Corp., in 2013.
The U.S. Arms Export Control Act limits the export of information related to weapons systems.
Federal prosecutors contended that Khazaee's description of that exchange was inaccurate, saying he had e-mailed information on the jets well before being laid off and that he had told a contact in Iran in an e-mail the information he sent was "very controlled ... I am taking [a] big risk."
At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hartford on Friday, prosecutors plan to ask for a sentence exceeding the 71 months laid out in federal sentencing guidelines, according to court papers. Khazaee's lawyers in a court filing asked the judge in the case to let the defendant, who is in his mid-60s, off on time served.
"His conduct was less serious than other crimes contemplated by this guideline, and did not threaten or harm the security or foreign policy interest of the United States," his attorneys wrote.
His 85-year-old mother, who spells her name Molok Khazaye, in a letter to the court asked for leniency for her son.
"I have no protector other than (my son) and am depend on him financially and emotionally strongly so," the defendant's mother wrote. "I kindly request you to grant him a pardon due to his mistake."
Khazaee's brother and sister also asked for his release.
Prior to Pratt & Whitney, which makes jet engines, Khazaee worked at major manufacturers including General Electric Co., according to court papers.
(Writing by Scott Malone)