Engineer charged in Tampa with servicing Iran computers
TAMPA - When Mohammad Reza Hajian of Tampa sold a computer system to his home country of Iran, the manufacturer alerted U.S. federal agencies and refused to provide needed technical support. The manufacturer then requested that the system be returned, according to federal court documents. Instead, Hajian – who had worked as an engineer with the city of Tampa – hired another engineer to live in Iran for a year to service the system, authorities allege. Now, the hired engineer – John Alexander Talley of Seattle – has been arrested on a federal charge of violating a trade embargo with Iran. The charges come about two months after Hajian was sentenced to four years in federal prison.Talley never did go to Iran because he was worried that he couldn't get the appropriate visa and that he would be detained, according to a federal complaint affidavit. Still, according to the charges, he provided the technical support requested – remotely, from the United States and during a visit to the United Arab Emirates. The Department of Homeland Security says Talley also provided an Iranian engineer with his user name and password so they could access American computer systems at companies where he worked. Talley was interviewed by federal agents in March 2011. After he provided information about his business with Hajian, Talley was warned by agents that what he was doing was illegal, the complaint states. He agreed to cooperate and was told not to tell anyone about their meeting, according to the affidavit. That September, without notifying investigators, Talley met with Hajian in Tampa, the affidavit says. Hajian later provided investigators with a recording he made of the conversation using his cell phone. Talley told Hajian about his meeting with the agents, including the fact that the investigators had asked him "to wear a wire" and directed him not to talk, according to the affidavit. At one point, Talley laughed, telling Hajian he left the March 2011 meeting and called another colleague to tell him what was happening. Talley was notified in November that he was a target of a federal investigation. About a month later, agents learned Talley, whose mother is Japanese, had booked a flight to Tokyo, in an apparent attempt to avoid prosecution, the affidavit states. Before he was sentenced, Hajian maintained that the $10 million in computer equipment he sold to Iran was meant to be used by a South African cellular telephone company and not by the military or government. But federal prosecutors argued that the "powerful and sophisticated enterprise level computer equipment" can be used in both civilian and military applications. In passing sentence, U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez-Covington agreed with the prosecution, saying there is no way to know whether the merchandise changed hands from private companies to groups who could use it for nefarious purposes. "It's equipment that could be dangerous," Covington said.
[email protected] (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTBO