University of Tennessee professor emeritus J. Reece Roth has lost his bid to avoid prison for violating the Arms Export Control Act. Roth, 72, had been allowed to remain free pending an appeal of his September 2008 conviction for using foreign nationals on a military project and taking documents from the project to China in 2006. But the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday shot down his appeal. Barring some extraordinary grant for review by the U.S. Supreme Court, Roth now must report to prison to serve the four-year sentence U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan imposed last year.
Roth allowed graduate students from China and Iran to work on a project for the U.S. Air Force to develop plasma actuators for use on unmanned drones despite, testimony showed, warnings from both UT officials and paperwork he signed as part of the contract. He also had a project report e-mailed to him while he was lecturing in China despite another warning from UT, testimony showed. Prosecutors Jeff Theodore and Will Mackie argued at trial that Roth arrogantly ignored the warnings because he disagreed with the law's restrictions. Roth's attorney, Tom Dundon, countered that Roth was merely ignorant of the law, believing it only applied to the finished product and not the research to develop it.
In an opinion delivered by 6th Circuit Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr., the appellate court sided with Theodore and Mackie.
"It seems that Roth thinks that barriers exist between the stages of the project that prevent the defense article qualification from being imputed from one stage to another, which is incorrect," Martin wrote. "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."
Roth's indictment and conviction came after former student and business partner Daniel Max Sherman struck a deal with the feds to confess the steps that he testified the pair took to cover up the use of foreign nationals on the project. Roth and Sherman led the Air Force project together via the technology firm they co-founded, Atmospheric Glow Technologies Inc. Varlan sentenced Sherman to 14 months. AGT was fined $25,000.