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Harrah company indicted for violating arms act

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A Harrah company that was indicted by a Wisconsin federal grand jury denies allegations that it violated the federal Arms Export Control Act.

Rick's Manufacturing and Supply Co., Inc. is accused of potentially putting the United States at risk by attempting to export military aircraft parts without obtaining a license from the State Department.

``The indictment alleges not that the defendants knew that the parts were destined for Iran or other prohibited sources,'' U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic of Milwaukee said. ``Rather, the charges allege that the defendants took no action to ascertain this information. The indictments allege that these companies acted as if they did not care.''

Rick's Manufacturing sells surplus aircraft parts obtained from Tinker Air Force Base. The company is charged in three counts and could be fined up to a $1 million on each count if convicted.

Attorney Michael Gassaway, who was retained by Rick Nossaman, president of Rick's Manufacturing and Supply, denied the charges in the indictment, which named two other companies and three individuals when it was unsealed on Tuesday.

Nossaman is a ``decent, God-fearing'' patriot who has done everything in his power to make sure the aircraft parts don't fall into enemy hands, Gassaway said.

``He's done nothing wrong,'' Gassaway said.

U.S. Customs officials called Nossaman before the indictment and said it had evidence he had sold parts to a Wisconsin man who had ``sent them to an al-Qaida cell in Iran,'' Gassaway said.

Milwaukee Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Warwick said the company's indictment had nothing to do with parts being sent to al-Qaida or Iran. Warwick said Rick's Manufacturing and Supply, in business since 1973, was snared in a sting operation. The investigation began in 1999.

U.S. officials set up the sting after an Iranian revealed his country had obtained military aircraft parts by setting up a company in Switzerland that bought parts and then forwarded them to Iran, she said.

Officials set up a dummy company that appeared to be in Vienna, Austria, and then waited to see who would sell them military parts without obtaining proper export licenses, she said.

An exporter has to provide the State Department with information about the end-user and destination of the parts in order to get a license, customs officials said.

If Rick's Manufacturing and Supply had sought the license, the State Department would not have approved the transaction because Austria ``does not fly'' the types of aircraft that would use the parts, Warwick said.

Nossaman goes out to Tinker when it has surplus sales and buys aircraft parts by the ``pallet load, ton, lot or whatever'' for pennies on the dollar. He then segregates, inventories and warehouses the parts for eventual resale at a profit.

``In reality, his main customer is Tinker Air Force Base,'' Gassaway said. ``He sells the parts back to them when they need them.''

Gassaway said his client used to sell parts around the world, but decided to limit his sales to the United States a few years ago after U.S. Customs officials told him he would need a license for foreign sales.

Nossaman became sensitive to acts of terrorism after Sept. 11 and began stating on his invoices that the parts were ``only for use within the United States'' and that a license would be needed if the purchaser intended to resell the parts outside the country, the attorney said.

Customs officials came back to Nossaman later and asked to review his books, Gassaway said.

Nossaman saved all his inquiries from people who wanted airplane parts to go outside the United States and would turn them over to Customs to investigate, Gassaway said.

Federal officials showed up at his office in July and seized his records, Gassaway said.

The three-count indictment against the company alleges he attempted to make unlicensed exports of aircraft parts in 2001 on Aug. 29, Oct. 5 and Nov. 15.
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