Turk who exported Wisconsin boat equipment to Iranian navy sentenced

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By Bruce Vielmetti
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Resit Tavan, left, with his wife and two of their three children prior to his arrest in 2017. (Photo: Federal court files)

A Turk who conspired to smuggle Wisconsin boat engines and other marine products to the Iranian military was sentenced Thursday to 28 months in prison.

Because U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper credited Resit Tavan with all the time he’s already spent in federal custody, he smiled as an interpreter explained that he is facing expedited deportation to rejoin his large family in Istanbul.

Tavan, 43, was arrested in Romania in June 2017 on an international warrant stemming from his indictment in Milwaukee. He fought extradition but was brought to Wisconsin in late 2017, where he spent the past 20 months at the Waukesha County Jail.

In April, Tavan pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to defraud the United States by exporting the equipment in violation of the 1995 trade embargo on Iran. A dozen other counts of the indictment were dismissed.

Speaking through an interpreter, Tavan told the judge he was sorry for his actions and that the biggest pain he’s suffered since his arrest is not seeing his children.

The indictment also charged Tavan’s company, The Ramor Group, and a manager there, Fulya Oguzturk, 54. The company has gone out of business and has no assets, and Oguzturk was never arrested.

Prosecutors recommended a sentence near the bottom range of federal guidelines, which were 46 to 57 months. But Pepper said that while his crime was serious, Tavan was not the mastermind but merely a procurement agent for others.

She noted his lack of any criminal record, very strong family support and that he tried to use his time wisely in jail, earning certificates in subjects from botany to financial literacy, all while trying to learn English.

According to court records, the defendants negotiated the export of the engines and generators to Turkey, then re-exported to Iran. In 2013, Tavan signed an agreement to buy two Germantown-based Seven Marine 557 outboard engines, worth more than $100,000 each, through a commercial brokerage, representing that the engines would be used in Turkey.

His attorneys said that at the time, an American lawyer who Tavan thought was a friend told him it was legal for him to then export the engines to Iran. 

But in 2014, Pepper said, a U.S. Department of Commerce agent met with Tavan personally and told him that exporting American products to Iran was illegal. After that, Tavan negotiated two more deals, for the sale of some Kohler Marine generators in 2015 intended for use on an Iranian boat designed to include covert missile launching tubes, and marine power propulsion equipment from Arneson, a subsidiary of Racine-based Twin Disc.

“There’s no reason to think this wasn’t an aberration,” for Tavan, she said. “It was a big one, but an aberration nonetheless.”

Once he was jailed in Wisconsin, Tavan strenuously sought release to help his attorneys prepare a defense. He wanted to bring his family to Milwaukee and remain on GPS and house arrest.

Prosecutors vigorously opposed his release under any conditions, saying his transfer of powerful outboard engines and other Wisconsin-made marine equipment to the Iranian navy affected national security. If he were able to get back to Turkey, he could not be extradited, prosecutors said.

His attorney has said Tavan denied any knowledge that engines and equipment he imported to Turkey would ever wind up with the Iranian navy, in violation of embargoes in effect at the time.

Employees from the Turkish consulate in Chicago attended Thursday’s sentencing. One of Tavan’s attorneys, who also practices immigration, said he could be leaving the U.S. in about a month.

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