Florida man pleads not guilty in Venezuela military parts case

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jul 03, 2012 5:23 PM
Florida man pleads not guilty in Venezuela military parts case

By Kevin Gray

MIAMI (Reuters) - The owner of a Florida company pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges he illegally exported aircraft parts to Venezuela's military in a probe that has also led to charges against a former Venezuelan Air Force officer and two other men.

Kirk Drellich, president of SkyHigh Accessories, Inc., based in Davie, Florida, faces up to five years in jail and a fine of $250,000 if found guilty.

U.S. prosecutors in Miami charged Drellich and the three others in late June for their alleged involvement in the illegal shipment of military aircraft parts to the Venezuelan Air Force.

The parts included pressure switches and cooling turbines among other material that U.S. officials said was intended for Venezuelan F-16 fighter jets, helicopters and other military aircraft, according to court documents.

Drellich delivered his plea during an initial court appearance in Miami.

Alberto Pichardo, a former Venezuelan Air Force officer once responsible for oversight at Venezuela's now-defunct Military Acquisitions Office in Miami, has also been charged, along with Freddy Arguelles, a former Venezuelan Air Force pilot, and Victor Brown, a Miami area businessman.

All of the men live in South Florida.

The men face charges of conspiring to violate the Arms Export Control Act, which requires a special State Department export license to export any goods listed on the United States Munitions List.

In an indictment filed against Drellich, prosecutors said unnamed co-conspirators in Venezuela and Spain advised Pichardo and Brown what items the Venezuelan Air Force was interested in buying.

Brown then purchased some of the requested parts from SkyHigh Accessories.

According to its website, SkyHigh Accessories offers new and overhauled parts for C-130 aircraft and other services.

Prosecutors allege Pichardo and Arguelles also attempted to buy other defense material from a business in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Court documents say at one point the Venezuelan Air Force expressed interest to Pichardo in buying ejection seats and munitions for F-16 fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicle parts.

Venezuelan officials have not commented publicly about the charges.

The case is the United States of America vs Kirk Drellich, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 12-cr-20477-CMA.

A related case is the United States of America vs. Alberto Pichardo and Freddy Arguelles, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 12-cr-20478-WPD.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)