A Huntsville defense contractor who beat federal corruption charges that might have brought what amounted to a lifetime in prison has won another victory over the government after the Department of Justice agreed to pay him $290,000 in restitution.
Alex Latifi, owner of the small military parts supplier Axion Corp., agreed to not pursue claims of misconduct and bad faith against government prosecutors in exchange. The Department of Justice admitted no wrongdoing, Latifi’s lawyer Henry Frohsin of Birmingham said Thursday.
In 2007, the government prosecuted Latifi in U.S. District Court in Birmingham, saying his 60-employee machine shop had illegally sent plans for the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter to a prospective subcontractor in China.
The case was thrown out after seven days by a judge who called the government’s evidence weak and plagued by conflicts such as testimony of a key witness who was convicted of stealing $13,000 from Latifi’s company while working there. In addition, the helicopter was already well-known to the Chinese government, which owns about 20 of them.
The government investigation started in 2003 and almost bankrupted the company and the Latifi family, but went nowhere in court. Latifi’s lawyers Frohsin and Jim Barger argued that plans for the helicopter were already on the Internet and exempted from arms-export laws.
Latifi, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who has been supplying welded and machined metal parts to the military since 1984, contends he was caught in an ill-conceived government sting earlier this decade dedicated to exploiting fears over an emergent China and to persecuting anyone from the Middle East.
“It was because I am an immigrant,” said Latifi, 63, who faced 25 years in prison if convicted.
The government case brought Axion to a standstill; the machine shops and warehouse sat idle for years as the case dragged on. But Latifi said hard feelings don’t seem to cross government lines.
The Defense Department work has come back, he said, with modest orders for mounts used to attach machine guns to vehicles, and for mine-and-bomb sweeping attachments for tanks. About a dozen people are working the plant, and the company is aggressively pursuing many more contracts worth millions of dollars.
Lawyer Frohsin said the government’s case against Latifi went beyond ill-conceived and rose to misconduct and bad faith. He said the government agreed to restitution only after he sent subpoenas to former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, who led the prosecution, and other government officials.
“The next step was for them to show up and defend themselves,” Frohsin said. “Instead, they paid.”
Latifi said he is alternatively relieved that the stress is gone, and mind-boggled by twists such as once again doing business with the government that a few years ago was dedicated to tossing him in the clink.
“But you know, the people that did that to me weren’t the soldiers in the field,” Latifi said. “They aren’t the ones depending on our machine gun mounts and bomb-clearing equipment.”
— by Russell Hubbard — The Birmingham (AL) News – Aug. 13, 2010