John Reece Roth – the Professor goes to Prison


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Department of Justice United States Attorney William C. Killian Eastern District of Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – On Wednesday, Jan 5, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the convictions of John Reece Roth of Knoxville, Tenn. John Reece Roth, a former professor of electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville, was convicted after a jury trial in U.S. District in Knoxville in September 2008. John Reece Roth was convicted of conspiracy, wire fraud, and 15 counts of exporting “defense articles and services” without a license. John Reece Roth was sentenced to 48 months in prison for those violations, but has been on bond pending his appeal. Roth, as a UT professor, obtained an Air Force contract to develop plasma actuators to control the flight of small, subsonic, unmanned, military drone aircraft. During the course of that contract he allowed two foreign national students to access export controlled data and equipment, and exported some of the data from the contract on a trip to China. The Arms Export Control Act prohibits the export of defense-related materials, including the technical data, to a foreign national or a foreign nation.

On appeal, John Reece Roth argued that the data did not constitute “defense articles and services” as a matter of law, that the jury instruction regarding willfulness was legally incorrect, that the court abused its discretion by refusing to give a jury instruction requested by the defendant regarding ignorance of the law, and that the evidence for his convictions was insufficient. The Court of Appeals held that the technical data produced during the research on the contract was a defense article as a matter of law because the ultimate objective of the project was to apply plasma actuators to military aircraft. The court also held that the district court did not err in its jury instructions and there was sufficient evidence to support Roth’s convictions.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation led the investigation and was joined in its efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Department of Commerce Office of Export Enforcement. The trial and appeal of this case were litigated by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Theodore and Will Mackie of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

U.S. Attorney William C. Killian commended the ruling from the Court of Appeals, noting, “This outcome will help communicate the message of the importance of export compliance to academia and industry, and the research and development communities in particular. It will underscore the criminal consequences of non-compliance and what happens to those who knowingly and willfully violate export control laws.”

Kevin Gholston

Kevin Gholston

Subject Matter Expert in MIL-STD-810, ITAR & Export-Compliance and Quality including ISO9001:2015, AS9100D and AAR M-1003

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