Scientist in Iran trade case spared more jail time

July 24, 2012 - 2:36 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — An Ivy League-trained scientist whose conviction for violating the Iran trade embargo was tossed out last year won't have to serve any more jail time after a judge said Tuesday that he didn't want to compound the punishment the man had already endured.

U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said Mahmoud Reza Banki deserved no prison time for making false statements, since he had already served nearly two years in prison after he was sentenced on more serious charges that were thrown out in October by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan. The judge called him a "talented man, even brilliant."

Banki, speaking just before Engelmayer announced his decision, said he had lived through "the darkest hours" while in prison.

"I watched my life pass me by. Those days will never be replaced," he said.

Banki, 36, of Los Angeles, said he could barely speak English when he came to the United States to attend Purdue University and the University of California at Berkeley before getting a doctorate in chemical engineering from Princeton University. He worked for a management consulting firm, McKinsey & Co., before he was charged with violating the Iran trade embargo, initiated in 1995 to prohibit U.S. citizens from supplying goods, services or technology to Iran or its government.

He had served 21 months of a 2 1/2-year sentence he received in June 2010 before the appeals court overturned his conviction, leaving in place only false statement charges that would carry a likely sentence of up to six months in prison.

Banki said he had already experienced the difficulties of searching for work after a conviction when an interview that was going well at a California school "was a complete disaster" after he explained where he had been the last two years.

He asked Engelmayer to help reduce the "stain and stigma" of his prison time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Danya Perry defended the prosecution, saying Banki's family had significant business interests in Iran when it was improper to do so. She said it was "not a case of martyrdom."

At trial, defense lawyers had argued that Banki only knew that he was receiving money from relatives in Iran when $3.4 million was deposited in his bank account. The government said he used some of the money to buy a $2.4 million Manhattan condominium and to make payments on his credit charges.

As part of a settlement of the case, Banki agreed to forfeit $710,000.