By Tom Hays
NEW YORK — A Kazakhstan-born owner of a Texas export firm was charged in New York on Wednesday with being a secret Russian agent involved in a multimillion-dollar scheme to, in the words of a U.S. prosecutor, “steal American technology” for Russian military and intelligence agencies.
Alexander Fishenko was among 11 defendants, including seven of his employees, named in an indictment unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn.
The FBI arrested the 46-year-old Fishenko and eight others Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and were to be arraigned in Houston; the names of their attorneys were not immediately available. Three defendants were still being sought.
The indictment alleges that since October 2008, Fishenko and his co-defendants “engaged in a surreptitious and systematic conspiracy” to obtain cutting-edge microelectronics from U.S. makers and export them to Russian while purposely evading licensing requirements.
The microelectronics are subject to strict government controls. Authorities say they could have a wide range of military uses, including radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems and detonation triggers.
U.S. authorities say the charges come amid a modernization campaign by the Russian military. Officials there are seeking components that are unavailable in Russia and often can only be bought in the United States.
“The defendants tried to take advantage of America’s free markets to steal American technologies for the Russian government,” Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said in a statement.
Stephen L. Morris, head of the FBI office in Houston, called the charges an example of how some countries have violated export laws “to improve their defense capabilities and to modernize weapons systems at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.”
Fishenko, a naturalized U.S. citizen and owner of Houston-based Arc Electronics Inc., was charged with operating inside the U.S. as an unregistered agent of the Russian government.
According to court papers, Fishenko was born in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan and graduated from a technical institute in St. Petersburg before coming to America in 1994. He holds U.S. and Russian passports and has frequently traveled overseas to do business, making tens of millions of dollars on exports, authorities said.
An analysis of Arc’s accounting records showed a “striking similarity between fluctuations in Arc’s gross revenues and the Russian Federation’s defense spending over the last several years,” the court papers say. Investigators also recovered a letter to Arc from a Russian domestic intelligence agency lab complaining that microchips supplied by the company were defective, the papers add.
Phone calls and emails intercepted by U.S. investigators also “constitute devastating evidence of Fishenko’s illegal procurement for the Russian government,” the court papers say.
Prosecutors said the evidence revealed repeated attempts by Fishenko to cover his tracks. In one instance in March, he “directed an employee of a Russian procurement firm to ‘make sure that our guys don’t discuss extra information, such as this is for our military client,’” the papers say.
In an earlier conversation, Fishenko favorably referred to a business associate using “a Russian colloquialism for ‘spy’ or ‘secret agent,’” the papers add.
FBI agents in Houston executed a search warrant on Wednesday at Fishenko’s firm. A phone call to the company would not go through.