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Ex-Air Force reservist pleads guilty to exporting military gear to Russia

Igor Panchernikov was among five people charged in 2021 with illegally shipping thermal imaging devices to Russia.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A former U.S. Air Force reservist pleaded guilty to conspiring to export military gear, including thermal imaging riflescopes and night vision goggles, to Russia without license to do so.

Igor Panchernikov, 41, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act, according to a statement Friday from the U.S. attorney's office in LA. Panchernikov, a former resident of Corona, California, has been jailed since July 2022 when he was extradited to the United States from Israel.

Panchernikov, an Israeli citizen, was among five people charged in 2021 by federal prosecutors with purchasing dozens of thermal imaging devices, which can cost between $5,000 and $10,000 and are controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, from sellers across the United States.

During a four-year scheme, which predated Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the five acquired the devices using aliases and falsely assured the sellers that they would not export them. The thermal imaging devices were then surreptitiously shipped to co-conspirators in Russia using aliases and false addresses.

One of his four co-schemers, a 61-year-old woman from Illinois, pleaded guilty last month to the same felony as Panchernikov and is awaiting sentencing. A 57-year-old Illinois man has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in August. The remaining defendants, a Russian and an Israeli man, are fugitives.

Panchernikov received at least 19 military items at his Corona home that his co-conspirators purchased from online sellers, according to the government. After receiving the goods, Panchernikov inspected them to make sure that they were undamaged and operational. Pursuant to his co-conspirators’ instructions, he mailed two of the items to accomplices in Russia and mailed 17 defense articles to Elena Shifrin in Mundelein, Illinois, who then mailed these items to Russia.

Although Panchernikov faces a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison, prosecutors have agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of the guidelines, according to his plea deal. They also agreed to let him serve his sentence in Israel. It will up to the judge, however, what sentence he receives and where he ends up serving it.

Panchernikov's lawyer declined to comment on his guilty plea.

Categories:Criminal, Government, International

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