A member of a Russian arms smuggling ring was found guilty by a federal jury in Philadelphia today in the illegal export of military-grade night vision devices.
Alexandre Astakhov, 28, of Brooklyn was arrested in August 2012 in the parking lot of a Home Depot in South Philadelphia. Federal agents swooped in shortly after Askathov exchanged $41,000 in cash for several of the high-tech devices.
Typically used by tactical marksmen, the night vision instruments are restricted for sale to the military and police. An export license must be granted by the State Department to ship them out of the country, federal prosecutors said.
Astakhov, who is originally from Russia, is a naturalized American citizen and once served as a corpsman in the U.S. Navy. He was unemployed at the time of his arrest, according to court papers.
In March 2012, Yakov Shvartsovskiy, who described himself as Astakhov’s “partner” introduced him to an arms broker with instructions to buy the devices. Neither Astakhov or Shvartsovskiy knew the arms broker, Denis Egorov, was cooperating for federal agents, prosecutors said.
After a series of negotiations, Egorov agreed to sell Astakhov two L-3 CNVD-T thermal clip-on night vision devices, an OASYS SkeetIR thermal weapon sight and three L-3 mini thermal monoculars. On numerous occasions, Egorov told Astakhov that the devices could not be exported without a proper license, at one point asking Astakhov to sign a disclaimer. Astakhov refused.
“No, we don’t work like that. We won’t be signing papers,” Asktakov reportedly said in a taped conversation.
According to court documents, crew members on Aeroflot flights were supposed to sneak the devices through security and pass them to their intended recipients in Russia.
Despite Egorov’s warnings, Astakhov could not be convinced to cancel the deal. When Egorov told Astakhov that illegally exporting these devices was “punishable with jail” and that “this is not a joke and these are not toys,” Astakhov acknowledged the possible consequences but said he and his people were "not rookies" and insisted on completing the transaction, according to court papers.
Found guilty of conspiracy to export defense articles without a license and attempted export of defense articles – specifically, thermal weapon sights – without a license, Astakhov faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced May 13.