A federal grand jury this week indicted an Elk Grove resident for allegedly trying to arrange a sale and shipment of 500 Russian-made tank helmets to a customer in Iran.
The U.S. trade embargo against Iran prohibits U.S. citizens from selling or supplying goods to people in that country.
Dariush Niknia, 56, of Elk Grove, and co-defendant Richard Lant, 74, of Las Vegas face up to 20 years in federal prison and $1 million fines if they are convicted in federal court.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed their indictment against the suspects on Aug. 8. They did not identify the alleged customer in Iran who attempted to purchase the helmets.
FBI investigators believe that Niknia and Lant tried to ship helmets to this customer via Russia, which lacks an embargo against Iran. Agents obtained email messages and PayPal payments that connected the suspects to the illegal acts, according to the indictments.
This scheme reportedly began in May 2015 when Niknia operated the Euro Auto Sales business in Sacramento, and Lant sold Russian goods from his company, R&L Ltd.
The Iranian customer first sent an email written in Farsi to Niknia and inquired about the purchase of 500 tank helmets. Niknia then contacted Lant about the order and in the following week Lant was able to find a shipper in Moscow, Russia, according to the indictment.
Problems reportedly arose when the suspects first tried to ship a “sample tank helmet” to the customer’s address in Tehran, Iran. Their Russian contact later informed them that shipment could not happen.
“I guess Russia has accepted the U.S. sanctions and has prohibited individuals from shipping there,” Lant allegedly wrote in an email to Niknia.
Prosecutors said that in July 2015, the Russian contact notified Lant and said that he found a shipper in Russia “who makes deals with customs” and could send the sample helmet to the Iranian customer, investigators reported.
However, the American suspects later learned that the wrong type of helmet was sent to Iran, authorities said. After the correct sample was shipped to the customer that September, an order for 500 helmets was made. Prosecutors said that Niknia sent Lant a $3,500 payment for a shipment of the first 50 helmets to Iran.
The American suspects’ plan reportedly fell apart when their Russian associates informed them they could not ship a high amount of helmets from Russia to Iran.
“The guys also say it’s dangerous and outlaw business to provide thousands of military stuff to countries that may use this in terroristic or any war ways,” an unidentified business partner of Lant informed him in an email in October 2015, according to the indictment.
Federal prosecutors accuse Niknia and Lant of willfully violating the U.S. trade embargo against Iran, and neglecting to seek approval from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control to sell and supply goods to Iran.