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Press Release

Portuguese Engineer Sentenced to 20 Months in Prison For Conspiring to Export Technology to Iran Without Approval From the U.S. Government

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Columbia

            WASHINGTON –Joao Pereira da Fonseca, 55, a citizen of Portugal, was sentenced today to 20 months in prison on a federal charge stemming from a scheme in which he conspired to help an Iranian company unlawfully obtain sophisticated equipment from two companies in the United States.


            The announcement was made by Dana J. Boente, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Channing D. Phillips, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and David Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, in San Diego, Calif.


            Fonseca, of Coimbra, Portugal, pled guilty on July 17, 2017, to conspiring to unlawfully export goods and technology to Iran and to defraud the United States. He entered the guilty plea before the Honorable Emmet G. Sullivan, on the day his trial was to begin in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The plea, which was contingent upon the Court’s approval, called for a prison sentence of 20 months. Judge Sullivan accepted the plea and sentenced Fonseca accordingly. Upon completion of his prison term, Fonseca faces deportation proceedings.


            “Joao da Fonseca disregarded U.S. law by participating in a scheme to export goods, technology, and services to Iran,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “His conviction and prison sentence show there will be serious consequences for those who circumvent and violate laws meant to safeguard the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States.”


            “Today’s sentencing is a result of the great investigative work of our Special Agents in conjunction with other law enforcement and government partners locally and abroad,” said Special Agent in Charge Shaw. “The illegal export of U.S.-origin items to prohibited countries is harmful to U.S. national security and will not be tolerated. HSI will continue to aggressively pursue those that seek to violate these laws and jeopardize our safety.”


            At the time he entered his guilty plea, Fonseca admitted to taking part in the scheme between October 2014 and April 2016. One of the companies in the United States manufactures machines that help produce sophisticated optical lenses that have both commercial and military uses. The other company manufactures machinery that tests components of inertial guidance systems that have both commercial and military uses. Fonseca was a contractor for a Portuguese engineering company that served as a front company to purchase the machines on behalf of their Iranian client. The Portuguese company claimed that it was purchasing the machines for its own use, but planned to have the machines shipped to Iran. Fonseca is a mechanical engineer whose role in the conspiracy was to travel to the U.S. to approve the machinery and learn how to install and maintain the machinery once it was shipped to its final destination in Iran.


            Due to the investigation conducted by a Special Agent from Homeland Security Investigations, the government prevented both machines from leaving the U.S. Fonseca traveled to the United States to receive training on how to use the optical lens equipment in October 2015. He returned to the United States in late March 2016 to be trained on how to use the inertial guidance system equipment at the company that manufactures it. When Fonseca was returning to Portugal in early April 2016, he was detained for violating certain immigration laws. Soon thereafter, Homeland Security Agents had gathered sufficient evidence that he had also violated U.S. export laws and criminal charges were brought against him. He has been in custody ever since.


            In announcing the sentence, Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente, U.S. Attorney Phillips, and Special Agent in Charge Shaw expressed appreciation for the work of those who investigated the case from the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations. They also commended the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Elena Buruncenco and Jorge Casillas; Litigation Technology Specialist Anisha Bhatia; former Litigation Technology Specialist Aneela Bhatia; Legal Assistant Matthew Ruggierio, and Summer Law Clerks Tessa Tilton, Michael Collins, Jessie Michelin, James Murray, Alison Perry, Anthony Ricci, Jared Schwalb and Elizabeth Ulan.


            Finally, they commended the work of the attorneys who investigated and prosecuted the case, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Frederick W. Yette, Erik Kenerson and Thomas Swanton, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorneys Robert E. Wallace and Amy Larson of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

Updated July 29, 2022

Export Control
Press Release Number: 17-195