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Justice News

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wasi Syed And Shahab Mir Plead Guilty In Stolen Polysilicon Case

United States Attorney Kenyen R. Brown of the Southern District of Alabama announces that Wasi Ismail Syed, age 38, of McKinney, Texas, and his brother-in-law Shahab Uddin Mir, age 35, of Frisco, Texas, have each pled guilty to two conspiracy charges related to a scheme to buy and sell stolen polysilicon and to launder the proceeds from these transactions. William Short of Loxley, Alabama, George Welford of Gautier, Mississippi, and Darlene Row of Dallas, Texas, have all previously pled guilty to their roles in these conspiracies.

William 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 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 Marcy 2014, Short and Welford stole, and then subsequently sold, approximately 50 metric tons of Mitsubishi polysilicon rods to Horizon Silicon. 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, which was valued at over $2.5 million, was exported from the United States after being sold by Syed to other buyers. While the final destination for all of the stolen polysilicon rods 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. In February 2015, Short and Welford each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess, transport, buy, and sell stolen material in interstate commerce and to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Row pled guilty to the same charges in March 2015, as did Syed and Mir on June 29, 2015.

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 July 1, 2015