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Lawyers disagree on sentence for Md. man in Iran satellite case

WASHINGTON — An attorney for a Maryland man convicted of illegally helping Iran launch its first satellite says his client should spend no more than 27 months in prison, not the approximately 16 to 20 years the government is recommending.

An attorney for Nader Modanlo made the recommendation in a letter Tuesday to the judge overseeing the case. He called the government’s recommendation “truly shocking.” Modanlo was convicted by a jury earlier this year and is set to be sentenced by a federal judge in Maryland on Friday.

The jury found Modanlo guilty of violating a US trade embargo against Iran by brokering a deal to help the country launch an earth observation satellite from Russia in 2005. The launch of the Sina-1 satellite marked the practical beginning of Iran’s space program after decades of aspirations. Prosecutors said Modanlo was paid $10 million for his assistance.

One of Modanlo’s lawyers, James McGuire, argued against a harsh sentence in a letter to Judge Peter J. Messitte, in particular because the satellite prosecutors accused Modanlo of helping to launch was non-military.

“The government has produced absolutely no evidence that Mr. Modanlo had any dealings with any member of the Iranian military or that the satellite technology at issue here was or could be used for any military purpose,” he wrote.

McGuire wrote that defendants convicted of “far more egregious” acts of aiding Iran have been given sentences of a few years. Among the cases he cited were two from Pennsylvania. In a 2010 case, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, Ali Amirnazmi, was sentenced to four years for agreeing to supply chemical procurement software and chemicals to Iran in violation of trade sanctions. And in a 2011 case, an Iranian man living in the United States, Mohammad Reza Vaghari, was sentenced to nearly three years after he was convicted of sending laboratory equipment, laptops and other products to Dubai, where co-conspirators forwarded them to Iran.

Prosecutors have not yet filed a public sentencing memo explaining their request in detail.