Navy Officer Pleads Guilty to Shipping Arms

A former Navy intelligence officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally exporting military aircraft parts overseas, saying he acted on behalf of a convicted Pakistani arms dealer.

George Charles Budenz II, (search) a retired commander, said he shipped engine parts for F-5 fighters (search), T-38 military trainers (search) and Chinook helicopters (search) to Malaysia and Belgium without a U.S. State Department permit.

Investigators said the F-5 parts may have wound up in Iran, a country that Budenz has visited.

Budenz, 57, had faced a 30-year prison term, but prosecutors said they would recommend up to 6-1/2 years under a plea agreement when he is sentenced in January. Budenz surrendered his passport and was freed on $35,000 bond.

In court, Budenz admitted he made the air freight shipments in December 2004 and January 2005 at the direction of Arif Ali Durrani. Last month, Durrani pleaded not guilty to conspiring to illegally export military aircraft engine parts to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Belgium.

Prosecutor William Cole, speaking to reporters, declined to say whether Budenz had agreed to cooperate with the Durrani investigation.

"Mr. Durrani was the mastermind of this conspiracy and Mr. Budenz, he was the lieutenant or the facilitator in getting these products out of the United States," said Serge Duarte, the agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (search) San Diego office.

While investigators have yet to determine what happened to the parts, Duarte said, "it's conceivable these parts could have gone to Iran or other parts of the world."

Investigators have not recovered the parts that Budenz shipped overseas.

Defense attorney Thomas P. Matthews said his client had a stamp in his passport showing he had visited Iran, but the attorney was not sure when the trip took place and said no evidence has been presented showing Budenz had sold weapons there.

Durrani's attorney, Moe Nadim, has said Budenz did not sell aircraft parts in Iran at his client's instruction.

Budenz served in the U.S. Navy for more than 25 years, most of the time as a reserve intelligence officer with postings all over the world.

A third man, Richard Tobey, pleaded guilty in August to conspiring to violate U.S. arms export control laws and said Durrani instructed him to send a T-38 cockpit canopy to the United Arab Emirates.