The Justice Department says a New Hampshire man sold nearly $1 million worth of surplus Defense Department hand-me-down machinery to Iran—and they’ve got secret tracking data to prove it.
Prosecutors charged Aiden Davidson, an Iranian citizen and a naturalized American, with money laundering, violating U.S. sanctions on Iran, and immigration offenses in the fall of 2018.
Justice Department officials have not spoken publicly about the charges and The Daily Beast is the first news outlet to report on the charges and search warrants obtained in the case.
Davidson, who also went by the name Hamed Aliabadi, allegedly shipped surplus machinery to Iran using what the Justice Department claimed was a Turkish front company. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges and his attorneys declined to comment on the case.
Court papers filed by prosecutors claim the investigation kicked off when analysts at the Commerce Department’s export enforcement section noticed that Davidson listed Stare Lojistik as the recipient of shipments from his company, Golden Gate International, LLC. The logistics company, analysts learned after googling its website, was based in Igdir, Turkey, 30 miles across the border from Iran, and listed Iran as one of a number of countries where it would deliver goods.
Investigators sought and received warrants to search Davidson’s email account and found communications with the owner of a Yahoo webmail account associated with Babazadeh Trading Corporation, which sells hydraulic machinery, and is based in Tehran, Iran. Davidson allegedly forwarded Babazadeh Trading information about a shipment of machinery from the U.S. to Turkey, which authorities interpreted to mean that he was updating the company on the shipment. Babazadeh’s website, investigators learned, also advertised pumps with the same part numbers as those Davidson had purchased as surplus from the Defense Department.
Invoices found in Davidson’s inbox allegedly show that he purchased surplus Defense Department equipment that both “present(s) a low risk when released out of DOD control” as well as more sensitive gear. Most of the 2,700 items Davidson purchased were less sensitive but sales records also showed that Davidson purchased power pumps used in Marine light armored vehicles and switches for military radios which contained Have Quick frequency hopping technology that allows radios to evade enemy attempts at jamming communications.
Those more sensitive items are on the Commerce Control List and require “mutilation to the point of scrap” if sold outside the U.S. absent a license from the federal government. Prosecutors did not specify whether any of the more sensitive items purchased by Davidson were ever exported to Iran. A superseding indictment alleged that he smuggled "goods, including electric motors, parts of machinery, pneumatic engines and motors, and hydraulic pumps."
Commerce Department investigators reviewed Davidson’s travel records and found that he had traveled between the U.S., Turkey, and Iran using both an Iranian and American passport. Customs officials found “he became very angry and would not discuss any issues” when asked if he conducted any business while in Iran.
Prosecutors allege that Davidson’s shipments to Iran began in 2013 and continued through 2017. When he filed paperwork indicating he planned to send a delivery of “motors, pumps, valves and other miscellaneous items” to Stare Lojistik in December 2016, investigators from the Commerce Department and Homeland Security stepped in to trace the shipment. They traveled to the port of Savannah in Georgia and installed GPS tracking devices “within the contents” of a shipping container transporting his goods aboard the Zim Tarragona, an Israeli-flagged cargo vessel.
The GPS tracking data allegedly showed the container arrived in the Port of Mersin, Turkey, moved to the Iranian-Turkish border, and had arrive in Tehran by March 2017—without ever reaching the Stare Lojistik facility listed in Davidson’s export paperwork. Investigators concluded that Davidson had caused the shipment to be “diverted to an unknown consignee or end-user” in Iran.
A superseding indictment filed in January 2019 charged Babazadeh Trading in Tehran with conspiracy to violate U.S. export laws and listed “a Turkish freight forwarding company with a location in Igdir, Turkey” as an unindicted co-conspirator.
Prosecutors charged Davidson in late August 2018 and arrested him the following month. In addition to the export-related allegations, the Justice Department also charged him with unlawful procurement of naturalization. Officials allege that he lied in a December 2015 interview with immigration officials when he said he had never committed a crime for which he hadn’t been arrested and had not illegally shipped goods to Iran.
Davidson was released on bail under the condition that he submit to GPS monitoring. After his not-guilty plea, his case is still awaiting trial.
A "Summary of Major U.S. Export Enforcement, Economic Espionage, and Sanctions-Related Criminal Cases" published by the Justice Department in January does not list Davidson’s case.