One-time Orange County businessman Charles J. McVey, charged with trying to sell secret computer technology to the Soviet Union, was a free man Thursday after two years in a Canadian jail.
But U.S. authorities vowed to watch his movements and apprehend him if he enters the United States.
McVey, 65, formerly of Villa Park, left the Vancouver Pre-Trial Center in British Columbia late Wednesday after an appeals court there ordered him freed, ruling he could not be extradited to the United States to stand trial. He had been held there since his arrest in 1987 on two California indictments.
McVey is among the U.S. Customs Service’s most-wanted smugglers of arms and high-technology. U.S. investigators were frustrated Thursday that intricacies of the extradition treaty between the United States and Canada allowed him to slip through their hands.
“We’re very disappointed with the ruling,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Lee B. Altschuler, who obtained an indictment against McVey in San Jose. “We’re hopeful there will be another time McVey will be extradited.”
Edgar Adamson, special agent in charge of the U.S. Customs Service office in Los Angeles, said he intends to ask Canadian officials to cooperate in monitoring McVey’s movements in that country and keep U.S. officials informed.
“We certainly want to find out where he’s going to go, where he’s going to live and what he’s going to do,” Adamson said.
Mike Fleming, a Customs Service spokesman, said the agency is “very disappointed” that McVey was freed.
“It took thousands of man hours to investigate him and charge him,” Fleming said. “He is still a federal fugitive, and if he attempts to enter the United States we will do everything in our authority to apprehend him.”
Fleming said lookouts have been instructed to keep a special watch for McVey at the 300 Customs stations in major U.S. cities and along the Canadian and Mexican borders. The agency also hopes to monitor McVey through its Ottawa attache.
McVey fled the United States in 1983, weeks before a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted him and two other men in an alleged plot to ship $15 million worth of computer and satellite technology to the Soviet Union. He was arrested by a Royal Canadian Mountie in a coffee shop in Canada’s remote Yukon Territory in August, 1987.
Three months later, another federal grand jury in San Jose indicted McVey, contending that he masterminded a scheme to sell secrets of the “Star Wars” defense system to the Soviets for $4 million.
In November, 1988, a Canadian appeals court dismissed a U.S. government request to extradite McVey in the Los Angeles case, saying the offense of falsifying documents used to ship technology to the Soviet Union did not fall under the terms of the U.S.-Canadian extradition treaty.