March 13, 2009 -- An American woman who became a rogue weapons trader pleaded guilty in federal court today to illegally helping Iran arm itself during the last 20 years.
Laura Wang-Woodford and her fugitive husband amassed a large fortune by illegally selling embargoed weapons, technology and equipment to Iran.
Wang-Woodford, 64, entered her plea today before a federal judge in Brooklyn. She pleaded guilty to charges of violating U.S. trade embargoes by sending munitions and controlled information, including technology for American Chinook military helicopters and other aircraft.
American citizens have been banned from trading with Iran since 1979 when Iranian militants took U.S. embassy employees hostage in Tehran.
Her husband, Brian Woodford, is currently a fugitive who is believed to be in Southeast Asia, possibly Singapore.
Despite the embargo, the couple used its Singapore-based company, Monarch Aviation, as well as aviation companies in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Texas to buy aircraft parts and sensitive munitions technology from the West and then illegally send the material and information to Iran.
She later changed the name of the company to try to elude U.S. authorities.
"Ms. Woodford, through her company Monarch Aviation, was one of the largest diverters of U.S. origin aircraft parts to Iran," Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement Kevin Delli-Colli said in a statement.
The indictment claimed that Monarch "is known to have exported goods worth millions of dollars."
Wang-Woodford's guilty plea includes an admission that she has been illegally selling munitions to Iran for more than 20 years.
She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In addition, Wang-Woodford agreed to forfeit $500,000 to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Arms Trader Also Suspected of Dealings With China
Wang-Woodford and her husband, a U.K. national, earned millions from their illicit deals, and were not afraid to display their wealth.
According to the British newspaper the Dorset Echo, the couple hosted a luxurious wedding at their lavish manor house near Dorchester in 2004 for two Chinese opera singers. The paper also reported that Brian Woodford kept a collection of aircraft at the 17th-century Chalmington Manor.
Wang-Woodford was indicted in 2003, but the indictment was kept sealed until she was arrested at San Francisco International Airport as she entered the United States to visit her elderly mother for the holidays in December 2007. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents were waiting for her upon her arrival from Hong Kong.
Wang-Woodford is also suspected by some U.S. officials briefed on the case to have been engaged in providing munitions and banned technology to China.
A letter filed with the U.S. District Court on Jan. 31, 2008, by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York mentioned Wang-Woodford's travel to China and stated that she was in possession of a catalog dealing with surface-to-air missile systems and rocket launchers.
"An examination of the defendant's luggage revealed two merchandise catalogs from the China National Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation ("CPMIEC")," the letter stated. "The United States Treasury Department has specifically designated CPMIEC as a Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferator. Due to this designation, all United States persons and entities are strictly prohibited from engaging in business with CPMIEC."
That letter also noted, "Monarch has been in the lucrative import-export business in Singapore for over fifteen years, and during that period is known to have exported goods worth millions of dollars."