Court upholds sentence of professor
Posted: Friday, January 7, 2011 6:44 am
KNOXVILLE (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction of a retired University of Tennessee professor for passing sensitive information from a U.S. Air Force contract to foreign research assistants from China and Iran.
Plasma physics expert J. Reece Roth was found guilty in September 2008 of violations of the Arms Export Control Act, marking the first time the government used the act to crack down on the distribution of restricted data to foreigners in a university setting. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Roth also was convicted of taking sensitive documents to China on his laptop during a lecture tour in 2006.
In addition to being a UT professor of electrical engineering, Roth was a minority partner in Knoxville-based Atmospheric Glow Technologies Inc., where a former student served as the principal.
According to court documents, in 2004, the company won the first of two Air Force contracts to develop a plasma-guidance system for unmanned aircraft. Roth allowed the two foreign graduate students to assist him with the work and gave them access to sensitive data as well as a device called a “force stand” that was developed for testing the system.
Roth argued in his appeal that the information he was accused of illegally sharing was improperly classified as “defense articles” by the government.
He claimed that the system he was developing should not have been considered military because it was going to be tested in commercially available aircraft before it was incorporated into military aircraft.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday from Cincinnati that his argument was not valid.
“The federal regulations extend export controls to all stages of defense projects that are covered by the Act, not just the final stages when military devices are directly involved,” the court wrote.
Roth also claimed in his appeal that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that he willfully exported sensitive data to China when he took a proposal for a project for the Department of Defense with him on his laptop. That is because he had not opened the file and could not have known what it contained until after he returned from China, he argued.
The court rejected this argument as well, ruling that Roth knew the document was a proposal to build military munitions based on sensitive, export-controlled technology and that university officials had warned him not to take anything related to that technology to China.
Attorneys for Roth said they have not yet decided whether to appeal.
Published in The Messenger 1.6.11