Louisiana Couple Convicted Of Providing Libya Oil Equipment
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A federal jury Friday convicted a Louisiana couple of providing oil equipment to Libya in violation of a presidential embargo, the first Americans found guilty of the offense, authorities said.
The jury deliberated two days before returning the verdicts against George and Cheryl Smith of Gretna, La.
″We’re very pleased,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern. ″It makes it clear that the government can and will prosecute individuals who attempt to supply this terrorist nation.″
The Smiths, owners of the oil equipment supplier Oil Patch Production Service Inc. of Gretna, were convicted on all counts - five of illegal exports to Libya, five of making false statements and one of conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Mrs. Smith, 37, and her husband, 50, each could receive up to 80 years in prison and $2.75 million in fines. U.S. District Judge Rudi Brewster ordered the Smiths jailed pending sentencing Jan. 19.
The Smiths were arrested in January along with Scottish businessman Francis George Christie in a government sting operation.
During the investigation, a Customs agent posed as a salesman from San Diego-based Solar Turbines Inc. and sold the Smiths oil machinery worth $250,000, authorities said.
Prosecutors said the Smiths then sold the turbines and other equipment to Christie, knowing it was destined for Libyan oil fields, for $270,000. The equipment ultimately reached Libya, said the Customs agent, Daniel Supnick.
Christie, 51, of Aberdeen, Scotland, pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to defraud the U.S. government. Ten other charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony against the Smiths.
Defense attorneys at the month-long trial claimed the government entrapped the Smiths.
″Is this our government catching criminals or creating crimes?″ said Judy Clarke, who represented Mrs. Smith. ″We’re all capable of doing wrong. Typically, we don’t do it because we’re not encouraged to.″
Halpern argued that the Smiths were driven ″by plain, old-fashioned greed.″ The prosecutor said the two had no regard for the national security considerations that led President Reagan to impose the embargo in 1986.
Sarah Wreford, a spokeswoman for the Internal Revenue Service, said the Smiths were the first Americans convicted of violating the embargo.