Tech Smuggler to Russia & China Gets 46 Months

SHERMAN, Texas (CN) — A Texan who pleaded guilty to exporting radiation-resistant electronics for Russia’s and China’s space programs was sentenced Wednesday to 46 months in federal prison.

Peter Zuccarelli, 62, of Plano bought more than $1.5 million worth of radiation hardened integrated circuits (RHICs) from two U.S. companies after his co-conspirator, a Pakistani naturalized U.S. citizen, transferred the money to his bank account, according to Zuccarelli’s charging document, a criminal information.

“RHICs have military and space applications, and their export is strictly controlled,” the Department of Justice said in a statement announcing the sentence.

Export licenses are required to ship such technology.

Federal prosecutors charged Zuccarelli on June 30, 2017 with conspiracy to smuggle goods out of the United States and to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Prosecutors said that from June 2015 to March 2016, Zuccarelli and his Pakistani accomplice, SR, worked together to supply the circuits to Chinese and Russian customers who ordered them for their countries’ space programs.

SR found the clients, took their orders for the circuits and sent the orders to Zuccarelli, prosecutors say.

Zuccarelli ordered the circuits from companies in California and Colorado, both unidentified in the charging document. He lied to the firms that the circuits were for his suburban Dallas business, American Coating Technologies.

Prosecutors say SR directed the scam. He had more than $1.5 million transferred to Zuccarelli’s account to buy the circuits, and told Zuccarelli to create phony paperwork to hide the scam from U.S. Customs.

“Zuccarelli received the RHICs that he had ordered, removed them from their original packaging, repacked them, falsely declared that they were ‘touch screen parts’ and shipped them out of the United States,” according to the criminal information.

Zuccarelli pleaded guilty on Aug. 3, 2017 and was released from custody on a $10,000 bond.

U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant chose not to impose the maximum 5-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine. He sentenced Zuccarelli to 46 months in prison and fined him $50,000 fine.

NASA did not respond Wednesday afternoon to questions about how RHICs are used in space exploration, and whether it was concerned the circuits that Zuccarelli shipped were being used by China’s and Russia’s space programs.

Due to lack of funding, NASA shuttered its space shuttle program in 2011, leaving it without the means to send its astronauts to space.

In recent years, NASA astronauts have caught rides to the International Space Station on Russia’s Soyuz rockets, and the agency has paid Russia hundreds of millions of dollars for the seats.

NASA said in February 2017 that it had ordered six space missions each from Boeing and SpaceX, but did not expect their rockets to be ready to launch astronauts into space until 2019.

The United States, China, Russia and the Soviet Union, which broke up into 15 countries in 1991, are the only countries to have independently built rockets capable of spaceflight.

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