2 Admit to Violations in Helicopter Deals
Two brothers, on trial since December for allegedly violating the Trading With the Enemy Act by shipping helicopters to North Korea, pleaded guilty unexpectedly Wednesday and were sentenced to prison.
Ronald Semler, 44, of Malibu, and Barry Semler, 38, of Santa Barbara, had been on trial in Los Angeles federal court on charges that they shipped 87 helicopters to North Korea and plotted to ship 15 more in violation of the act, which prohibits trade with that Communist country.
But in an unexpected move Wednesday, federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss those charges and accept guilty pleas to four other criminal counts.
Prison Time for Both
As a condition of those pleas, Ronald Semler agreed to a prison term of three years and Barry Semler to a term of one year and one day, their lawyers said. Both also acceded to a requirement that they pay $40,000 in fines. U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian imposed the sentences immediately.
The Semlers pleaded guilty to making false statements in shippers export declarations to the U.S. Customs Service in 1984 by claiming that five helicopters were bound for West Germany when they went to North Korea, said Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Modisett.
The brothers also pleaded guilty to shipping military radio parts to the Syrian army in 1982 without the proper licenses and conspiring to take $975,000 in improper tax deductions for Associated Industries, their North Hollywood military export firm, between 1981 and 1984.
Modisett said he agreed to the lesser charges because he feared the case, which went to trial in December, might end with a hung jury. The government’s key witness, the Semlers’ former business partner, had “credibility problems,” he said.
“We firmly hold to our certainty that these two knew the helicopters were going to North Korea, but it was more important to get the certainty of jail time rather than roll the dice and take the chance these two would walk,” he said.
Vincent Marella, one of the Semlers’ attorneys, said the deal was a “vindication” of both men. “We have said all along that our clients never knew these helicopters were going to North Korea, and the fact that the government dropped all those charges shows we were right,” Marella said.
The helicopter export case had rested largely on the testimony of Kurt Behrens, who with the Semlers co-owned Delta Avia, the West German distributorship that handled the deals. The Semlers had blamed the North Korean sales on Behrens, saying he made the transactions without their knowledge.
Behrens testified that the Semlers were fully informed of the North Korean deal. But during defense cross-examination, it was revealed that he had told others earlier that he had concealed the helicopters’ destination from the brothers.