Friday, June 6, 2014

Acquittal in Iranian Trade Restriction Case

I recently won an acquittal in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, for a client accused of violating the U.S. restrictions on trade with Iran.  The case was United States v. Patrick Campbell, 13-CR-60245.  The government had charged my client with violation of the trading restrictions with Iran imposed by the United States and a count of conspiracy to violate those restrictions.
The case arose from a Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") sting operation.  DHS investigators posed on the internet as uranium brokers.  The defendant, a resident of Sierra Leone in West Africa, responded to the internet advertisement.  He stated that he mined and exported minerals including uranium.  The agents pretending to be business people told my client that they were brokering a deal for a Middle East country.  Eventually, the agents informed him that the country purportedly involved was Iran.  The agents insisted that the defendant come to the United States to meet the purported buyers and bring a sample of the uranium and a draft contract.  Upon clearing customs at Kennedy International Airport DHS agents arrested my client.  DHS treated the matter as a significant investigation, issuing a press announcement after the arrest, which was picked by a number of media outlets including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times
My client was incarcerated pending trial and remained in jail for nine months until his acquittal by the jury.  Even after his exoneration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") held him on an immigration detainer until we could arrange his air travel back to Sierra Leone, a period of about a week.  Because the client was not deported, ICE did not make his travel arrangements.
There were a number of significant issues in the trial.  The first was whether the defendant had acted willfully in undertaking his activities.  Specifically, because the violation of law required a specific intent, the government had to prove that the defendant knew of an underlying prohibition of some type and acted with the specific willful intent to violate that prohibition.  The flip side of the willfulness issue is good faith.  That is, if the defendant acted in good faith, such action is incompatible with willful conduct in the context of a specific intent crime.  During the investigation the agents did not advise the defendant, a resident of Africa who had never been to the United States, that the US had a prohibition against trading with Iran.
The second issue involved the definition of a "United States person."  Under the law one must be a "United States person" or "US person" to violate the prohibition.  Presence in the United States is one of the definitions of a "United States person."  The issue was whether the action of the agents in insisting that the defendant come to the United States for the sole purpose of affecting his arrest made him a "United States person" for the purposes of the statute.
The final issue was the conduct of the DHS agents during the investigation.  The agents suggested to the defendant all of the actions which he took.  Moreover, agents insisted that the defendant come to the United States, threatening to end negotiations if he did not do so.  The facts raised the issue of entrapment to the extent that any crime at all had occurred. 
The jury deliberated for less than three hours before returning the verdict of not guilty on both counts.
Anyone wishing to obtain more information about the case may contact me at or at (754) 223-4718. 

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