U.S. First Circuit - The FindLaw 1st Circuit Court of Appeals News and Information Blog

Man Who Sold Parts to Iran for WWIII Denied Lighter Sentence

What part of "World War III" did Sihai Cheng not understand?

Cheng, a Chinese national convicted of selling parts to Iran for "World War III," asked a federal appeals court to reduce his sentence. He basically said it was just a sales pitch, apparently forgetting that China sentences people to death just for selling sensitive information.

The U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals summarily dispatched Cheng's appeal, ruling that the trial judge did not exceed her authority in sentencing him to 108 months in prison. The parties had agreed on a lesser sentence, but the judge saw it differently.

"You're not the first case I've seen like this, and I think there has to be a deterrent message sent out there, particularly if you know you're helping a nuclear weapons program," Chief Judge Patti B. Saris said.

What About the Other Guy?

Cheng was caught in an illicit scheme to export pressure transducers -- sensitive goods with nuclear applications -- in violation of the U.S. embargo against Iran. Between 2009 and 2011, Cheng helped export 1,185 transducers by fraudulently obtaining U.S. export licenses, stripping the parts of serial numbers and repackaging them to hide the fact that they violated export laws.

After pleading guilty, Cheng appealed his sentence on various grounds. The First Circuit, in a 11-page decision, was not impressed. The judges took aim at Cheng's argument that others involved in the scheme received lighter sentences.

"In the circumstances of this case, this 'he did it too! argument is unpersuasive," they said. "Stated bluntly, the fact that the sentencing court had no ability to sentence certain of Cheng's co-conspirators does not make Cheng's own sentence substantively unreasonable."

World War III

In hawking his goods, Cheng apparently thought it would help his sales if he said the parts could be used in the next world war.

"We already hear the steps of the big war!" Cheng wrote in one chat to his Iranian client.

That apparently pushed the trial judge to the high end of the sentence. She said his conduct imperiled America, calling it a "huge threat to the national security interests of the United States."

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