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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Alabama

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, June 24, 2016

Loxley Man Sentenced To Prison In Stolen Polysilicon Case

United States Attorney Kenyen R. Brown of the Southern District of Alabama announces that on June 17, 2016, United States District Judge Kristi K. DuBose sentenced Willie Richard Short, age 63, of Loxley, Alabama, to serve 6 months in prison and pay $2.2 million in restitution for his role in criminal offenses which involved the buying and selling of stolen polysilicon, and the laundering of proceeds from these illegal transactions.

In late-2015, co-defendants Wasi Syed, Shahab Mir, and Darlene Row, all of Texas, were sentenced in late-2015 to prison terms of 24 months, 3 months, and 2 months, respectively. Co-defendant George Welford, of Gautier, Mississippi, was sentenced to 6 months in prison. All of the defendants were ordered to make restitution.

Willie Short and George Welford are former employees of the Mitsubishi Polysilicon manufacturing plant located in Theodore, Alabama. The plant produces exceptionally high-grade polysilicon, which is a material used in the manufacturing of computer chips that control high-tech devices from super computers, to hospital equipment, avionics, and weapons systems. The polysilicon produced at the Theodore plant is ultra-pure. There are only four plants in the United States, and approximately a dozen worldwide, that produce this type of high-grade polysilicon.

In late 2008, Short and Welford began stealing polysilicon rods from the Mitsubishi plant. Using reinforced backpacks and lunch pails, Short and Welford walked several rods per day out of the plant and into their vehicles. Before long, Short and Welford had stolen so much polysilicon that they needed a storage unit, and ultimately a warehouse to house the stolen material. Since the rods were stolen very shortly after coming out of the reactors, they were not etched or vacuum-sealed in a clean room like the finished rods coming out of the plant. Consequently, the rods lacked the normal specification sheets that are attached to the packaging.

Soon after they started stealing the polysilicon rods, Short and Welford began looking for a purchaser. Using the aliases William Smith (Short) and Butch Cassidy (Welford), the pair

found Horizon Silicon online. The Dallas, Texas-based company was owned and operated by brothers-in-law Wasi Syed and Shahab Mir, and Darlene Row worked as a secretary.

Short and Welford negotiated with Syed and Row for the price and amount of polysilicon to be sold. During the course of the initial negotiations, Syed flew to Pensacola, Florida, to see the polysilicon for himself. This meeting, in which Syed tested the polysilicon with a resistivity meter to check its purity level, occurred at night in a Krystal’s parking lot.

After testing the buckets of polysilicon, Syed agreed to buy the polysilicon from Short and Welford for a price well below the market value. One condition of the deal was that payments were to be made in cash and in person.

Between February 2009 and March 2014, Short and Welford stole, and then subsequently sold, approximately 40 metric tons of Mitsubishi polysilicon rods to Syed. Typically, Syed would find a buyer for the polysilicon he was purchasing from Short and Welford, then Row would arrange for the polysilicon to be picked up and delivered to a port city on the west coast. Finally, Mir would fly or drive to Mobile, Alabama, and other locations along the Gulf Coast, with either backpacks or suitcases full of cash to pay Short and Welford.

The stolen polysilicon, valued at approximately $2.2 million, was exported from the United States after Syed sold the polysilicon to other buyers. While the final destination for all of the stolen polysilicon is not clear, at least some of the material ended up in the People’s Republic of China.

In early 2014, Short and Welford were caught by Mitsubishi. Syed, Mir, and Row were subsequently arrested in Texas in May 2014.

This matter was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and IRS-Criminal Investigations in Mobile, Alabama, with assistance from the Dallas, Texas, office of these agencies. The case was prosecuted by Donna B. Dobbins and Christopher J. Bodnar, Assistant United States Attorneys with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama.

Updated June 24, 2016