A California man who admitted trying to sell a fighter jet and other items to Iran was sentenced to almost four years in prison Monday.
Marc Knapp, 36, of Simi Valley, Calif., told U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark that he regretted his conduct, which he suggested was the result of dire financial circumstances and his inability to find work after losing his $81,000-a-year job at a biotechnology company in 2007.
"I certainly have no animosity toward the United States of America," Knapp told the judge, saying he did not believe at the time that the items he was trying to sell posed any risk to national security.
Prosecutors said Knapp, who was sentenced to 46 months, was motivated by both greed and a hatred of the United States. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hall said Knapp told an undercover agent that he was starting to hate America and wanted to "level the playing field" with Iran.
Defense attorney Christopher Koyste said the statements Knapp made were "puffery."
"He was playing a role of what he expected," Koyste said.
Knapp faced a maximum of 30 years in prison, but attorneys agreed to ask for a sentence ranging from 30 to 57 months.
Stark said he could not discern Knapp's motive, but that he nevertheless had engaged in sophisticated, calculated and long-term criminal conduct.
"These offenses are very serious, even egregious," the judge said. "... He was looking to get rich, indeed very rich, by looking to sell arms to our enemies."
Knapp pleaded guilty in January to violating the International Emergencies Economic Powers Act and the Arms Export Control Act.
Other items Knapp tried to either sell or ship overseas in violation of U.S. law included an F-14 ejection seat, five flight suits that mitigate G-forces, four survival radios and an F-14 emergency operations manual.
Koyste noted that Knapp, a collector of aviation gear, bought many of the items online.
"The fact that a G-suit is obtained from eBay does not mean it is not criminal activity to sell it to Iran," Hall said.
Koyste had previously described the F-5 as a relic that would be of no use to the Iranian military but was owned by a man who leases it out for use in movies. He admitted Monday, however, that the F-5, which Knapp was arranging to be flown from California to Delaware before being shipped overseas, could have proven useful in training Iranian pilots.
Samuel Gardiner, a retired Air Force colonel and an instructor at the National War College testifying for the defense, said the F-5 was built in 1968 and sent to Iran in the 1970s, before the U.S.-friendly shah was overthrown. Iran later transferred the airplane to Jordan, and it eventually wound up back in the United States.
"We have been making a full circle, of being in Iran, going back to Iran," Gardiner said, adding that the only F-5s used by Iran as a first-line fighter are more modern F-5Es.
Prosecutors were led to Knapp by his friend Paul Taylor, another California man who pleaded guilty in April 2010 to trying to ship U.S. military items to foreign countries. Taylor, who told investigators that Knapp had supplied him with an F-14 ejection seat, agreed to cooperate with federal authorities as part of his plea agreement and was sentenced to three months in prison.