Alex alerted Special Agent Ron Kriske. From that point, Kriske called the shots. He paid Alex a salary and told him what to say when Kargar called or e-mailed. He set up recording devices. He laid the trap.
Weeks and sometimes months would pass between communications with Kargar. Over two years of negotiations, Alex made it clear that it was illegal to export night-vision goggles without a special license. Furthermore, the United States has an embargo on trade with Iran. Legitimate buyers were required to sign an end-user agreement stipulating they would not resell the items. Without the required documentation, crossing borders with the goggles was illegal.
Kargar understood and opted to proceed anyway. At one point, he wanted as many as 3,500 pairs for his client. The men discussed transporting the goggles through Spain, Turkey, or Canada.
On May 18, 2004, Kargar sent a fax proving that $10,500, the cost of one pair of goggles, had been wired from the National Bank of Dubai to Alex's bank account. The fax was on letterhead from Seif's company, Noor-Al-Fath. The men planned to meet so that Alex could hand over a sample pair. If it was acceptable, they would arrange a bulk purchase. During telephone discussions about the deal, Kriske ensured that a tape recorder was always rolling. Faxes and e-mails were saved as evidence.
On October 15, 2004, Alex got a call from a woman identifying herself as Farideh Fahimi. She explained that Kargar was no longer working for Seif and that she would be taking over the project.
Fahimi told Alex: "Mr. Seif — he's the owner of this company, our company, okay? He is working inside the government of Iran, and he has a good connection, which Mr. Kargar doesn't." She discussed the order — for "different kind of cameras, and whatsoever I don't know, I'm not technical in this part." Later in the conversation, she casually said, "This kind of work, everyone has two or three different names."
On November 8, Fahimi called to say she had been out of the office for laser heart surgery and wanted to talk to Alex about the status of the deal. Agent Kriske took a message.
By November 24, Fahimi and Alex had scheduled a meeting in Austria. A fax, sent from the office of Twins Group, confirmed the details.
Agent Kriske sent ICE agents to Vienna, arranged plane tickets for himself and Alex, and coordinated with BVT, Austria's version of the FBI. He readied the paperwork necessary to transport one pair of night-vision goggles.
After their arrest in Austria, Gholikhan and Seif each pleaded guilty to one charge of trading defense articles without a license. It was the convenient thing to do, Gholikhan says now. Their punishment was a mere 28 days in prison and a small fine. The couple returned briefly to Dubai, but the United Arab Emirates deported them to Iran.
Between 2005 and 2007, U.S. agents tried to extradite Seif and Gholikhan to no avail. They sent out a "red notice" — an international arrest warrant — through Interpol, hoping the couple might be captured at borders.
So it was a surprise to almost everyone when, in December 2007, Shahrzad Mir Gholikhan popped up in Cyprus. Having heard the United States was looking for her, she called the U.S. Embassy, asked for a plane ticket, and voluntarily traveled to Miami. She sent her daughters, now 11 years old, to live with their grandparents in Iran. In her letter to New Times, she explained that she agreed to travel to Miami to clear her name. When she disembarked, five officers fingerprinted her and seized her passport and thousands of dollars in jewelry. She smoked two last cigarettes and was brought to the Federal Detention Center.
In spring 2008, the U.S. government offered Gholikhan a plea deal for time served. She accepted and pleaded guilty to one charge. Days later, at the sentencing hearing, the government said there had been a miscalculation. She would actually have to serve 29 months. Gholikhan balked and withdrew her plea. She would rather take her chances at trial on six charges: brokering the export of defense articles, exporting defense articles, attempting to export goods to Iran, and three related conspiracy charges.
At her first trial in September, she was represented by a court-appointed attorney and did not testify. The jury, unable to hear her voice and compare it to the one on Agent Kriske's recordings, could not agree on a verdict. A new trial was scheduled for December.
This time, Gholikhan chose to represent herself. She forsook regular clothes and appeared in front of the jury in her jail uniform: a set of khaki scrubs, white socks, and government-issued flip-flops.