Despite a defense plea that the United States now has a "double foreign policy" on shipment of military equipment to Iran, a Los Angeles federal judge Monday sentenced an Iranian immigrant to three years in prison for conspiring to sell $4 million worth of radio equipment to the Iranian army.
The sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Alicemarie H. Stotler on Hormoz Hezar, 51, who had pleaded guilty to conspiring to ship spare radio parts and military radios to Iran, was the toughest in half a dozen Iranian arms shipment cases in Los Angeles in the last two years.
"I don't know what these reports are about," Stotler said, referring to the reported secret shipment of U.S. military equipment to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon. "In any event, I want to make it clear they play absolutely no part in this court's decision."
Hezar, who recently moved to Canoga Park and opened an auto repair company after losing his Beverly Hills house and import-export business because of his legal difficulties, was indicted last November with another Iranian immigrant, Khosrow Shakib, 43, of Encino, in the alleged scheme to illegally ship the military radio gear to Iran.
Shakib was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison by Stotler in September.
Federal public defender Brian Q. Robbins, representing Hezar, argued that the recent reports of secret U.S. arms shipments to Iran have "clouded" the deterrent value of imposing a lengthy sentence on Hezar and obscured the question of whether or not it is "an evil" to ship military equipment to the government of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Arguing that any secret shift in U.S. foreign policy is irrelevant to the issue of whether private citizens are violating the nation's export laws, Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Modisett told Stotler that "the events in recent days" should have no impact on her decision.
"It's up to the executive branch to decide when it is in our interest and the interests of world peace to approve arms shipments to foreign countries," Modisett said. "We might not have been in the position (to negotiate for hostages) if an absolute embargo was not in effect."
U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner, later calling the sentence appropriate, said the U.S. attorney's office will continue to prosecute illegal arms export cases "vigorously" when such shipments are made in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
"What the government decides to do for foreign policy purposes is not really relevant at all to the legality of a private citizen making an illegal arms sale to a foreign government," Bonner said.
Hezar, who ran an automobile plant in Iran before fleeing to the United States in 1976, was described as a recovering cocaine addict who has recently become involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. As his wife, daughter and grandson watched the sentencing, he pleaded with Stotler for leniency.
"Instead of being locked up, I would like to help society," he said. "Let me help a couple hundred addicts during this time instead of being locked up where I am useless."
Besides the three-year sentence, to begin Dec. 8, Stotler ordered Hezar to be placed on five years' probation after his release from prison. She said she would have sentenced him to five years in prison if he had not been fully cooperative with federal officials in recent weeks.