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California man charged with trying to sell military jet to Iran

From Stan Wilson, CNN
The Northrop F-5 is used by the Navy and Marines as a stand-in for "aggressor" fighters in training exercises.
The Northrop F-5 is used by the Navy and Marines as a stand-in for "aggressor" fighters in training exercises.
  • The arrest came after a seven-month sting operation, court papers say
  • An undercover agent was brought into the case by "a cooperating defendant"
  • Marc Knapp said he could obtain an F-5B fighter jet for $3.25 million, the papers say
  • Knapp to plead guilty, prosecutor says

Los Angeles ((CNN) -- Federal agents have arrested a California man who allegedly attempted to export a U.S. military fighter jet to Iran, authorities announced Friday.

The arrest followed a seven-month government sting operation, authorities announced.

Marc Knapp, 35, also was charged in a criminal complaint with two felony counts of attempting to export other aircraft parts and controlled technology.

Knapp has agreed to plead guilty to the charges, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Kravetz, who is prosecuting the case.

According to unsealed court documents, the case began to unfold after "a cooperating defendant" in the operation introduced Knapp to an undercover agent. As part of the sting, the agent met with Knapp on several occasions at locations in California, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Budapest, Hungary, the court papers say.

The documents say Knapp broached to an undercover agent the idea of obtaining an F-5B fighter jet from a source in California. Knapp allegedly told the agent that the "Iranians" might be interested in the fighter jet and other items, and allegedly said he wlould not be concerned if the jet or the other items ended up in Iran.

In July, Knapp allegedly sent a contract for the fighter jet to the undercover agent and demanded a $3.25 million purchase price. Knapp was arrested in Delaware in July while negotiating plans to fly the aircraft from California to the East Coast, where it subsequently was to be crated and shipped to Hungary and eventually Iran, the documents state.

The Northrop-designed supersonic fighter jet is part of a group of aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and by the Navy and Marines as a stand-in for "aggressor" fighters in training exercises. But it has primarily been an export plane sold to other militaries.

During their meetings, Knapp also informed the agent that he had various defense parts and allegedly admitted procuring an F-14 ejection seat, which was sold to the agent by another source. Over the course of their interaction, Knapp provided the agent with various lists containing items for sale, including fighter jet emergency manuals, survival radios and antigravity suits, according to court documents.

"Homeland Security Investigations will continue to pursue those who are willing to put America's national security at risk," John P. Kelleghan, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a news release. "The export of technology to Iran is prohibited so that our innovations cannot be used to harm Americans or our allies."

If convicted, Knapp would face a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $2 million fine.