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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Three Texans, One New Yorker Indicted For Conspiracy to Sell Sanctioned Iranian Petroleum to Refinery in China for Millions in Profit

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain and Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers announced that the following defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy, violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”), and conspiracy to commit money laundering based on their attempt to transact in sanctioned Iranian petroleum:

  • Nicholas Hovan, age 34, of New York, NY;
  • Zhenyu Wang, a/k/a “Bill Wang,” age 39, of Dallas, TX;
  • Robert Thwaites, age 30, of Dallas, TX; and
  • Daniel Ray Lane, age 39, of McKinney, TX.

The Indictment alleges that from May 2019 to February 2020, the defendants conspired in Philadelphia and elsewhere to arrange for the purchase of petroleum from the Islamic Republic of Iran, in violation of United States economic sanctions imposed on Iran, for sale to a refinery in the People’s Republic of China. They also allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds of the sale through shell entities and offshore financial accounts to disguise the nature of the transaction. More specifically, the defendants are charged with conspiring to purchase sanctioned Iranian petroleum, to sell the petroleum to a Chinese refinery, to conceal the origin of the petroleum (including by bribing a Chinese official), and to obtain Antigua passports to open Swiss bank accounts through which the proceeds would be laundered.

In February 2020, the defendants were arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint. As previously reported, the defendants planned two shipments of oil per month going forward, all for an expected profit of roughly $28 million-per-month.

“It doesn’t get much lower than attempting to get rich by flouting the United States’ national security interests,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “The defendants here allegedly jeopardized the safety and security of the United States by scheming to get in bed with Iran and China. This type of conspiracy deserves the full condemnation of my Office -- and it has it.”

“The defendants in this case allegedly conspired to sell Iranian petroleum to a Chinese refinery in order to enrich themselves at the expense of the US Iran sanctions regime,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “The defendants devised a scheme to use front companies, bribes, and false contractual documents in order to conceal their brazenly illicit activity.  We will continue to leverage all of our tools to detect and prevent individuals such as these from engaging in actions that would have harmed the national security of this nation.”

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 45 years in prison, a $1.75 million fine, a three year term of supervised release, and a $300 special assessment.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Rinaldi, in partnership with Trial Attorney David Recker of the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Counterintelligence and Export Control
Contact: 
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY’S OFFICE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA Suite 1250, 615 Chestnut Street Philadelphia, PA 19106 JENNIFER CRANDALL Media Contact 215-861-8300 If you have not done so already, follow @USAO_EDPA and @USAttyMcSwain on Twitter to get the most up-to-date information about big cases and community news.
Updated August 26, 2020