FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – An Iranian woman who surrendered to U.S. authorities hoping to get probation was instead sentenced Friday to more than five years in federal prison for her role in a scheme to smuggle military night-vision goggles to Iran.
U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn imposed the sentence on 31-year-old Shahrazad Mir Gholikhan, a mother of twin daughters who insisted during her trial in December that she was innocent. She has already spent more than a year behind bars, which will count toward her sentence of five years and three months.
Gholikhan previously said she would appeal.
With an indictment hanging over her head, Gholikhan came to the U.S. voluntarily in late 2007 to plead guilty in a deal she expected would allow her to quickly return home. But her plea deal collapsed because of an error in the estimated sentence — leaving her with a likely two years in prison — so Gholikhan decided to go to trial, choosing to act as her own attorney.
Gholikhan was convicted Dec. 18 of illegally trying to broker a deal involving 3,500 pairs of sophisticated Generation III night goggles — used exclusively by U.S. special forces and the Israeli military — and of attempting to violate the U.S. embargo against Iran. Her ex-husband, Mahmoud Seif, was also charged in the case, but he is a fugitive living in Iran, prosecutors said.
In one of her many handwritten court filings, Gholikhan boasted about the jury's acquittal of her on three conspiracy charges and said she looked forward to eventually leaving "devil-land of America." She also compared herself to a lioness.
"The bottom line is you are playing with ... a real and true she lion, who is the Queen of the Jungle," Gholikhan wrote. "A she lion is much stronger than a he lion."
The goggles are extremely sensitive because they give the U.S. and Israel a decisive advantage in night operations. Army Col. Kevin McDonnell, testifying in a similar 2008 smuggling case, said U.S. adversaries that obtain such goggles would be better able to kill American soldiers, shoot down U.S. aircraft and figure out how to build their own competing night goggles.
"The direct result is the loss of American lives," McDonnell testified.
Gholikhan and Seif were originally arrested in 2004 in Vienna, Austria after a hotel meeting with undercover U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents posing as buyers for the goggles. Gholikhan spent a month in an Austrian jail, then was released and later decided to surrender to U.S. authorities.
Throughout the trial, Gholikhan insisted she was under Seif's control and denied using the pseudonym "Farideh Fahimi" who appears on numerous recorded phone calls and intercepted e-mails setting up the goggles deal. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Walleisa accused Gholikhan of inventing a "surreal spy thriller" in a false attempt to escape responsibility.
"This testimony was in direct conflict with the evidence in the case," he said.