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Former University of Tennessee Professor John Reece Roth Begins Serving Four-Year Prison Sentence on Convictions of Illegally Exporting Military Research Data

U.S. Attorney’s Office February 01, 2012
  • Eastern District of Tennessee (865) 545-4167

KNOXVILLE, TN—On January 18, 2012, John Reece Roth, a former professor of electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville, began serving a four-year prison sentence for his September 2008 convictions. Roth had been on bond pending his appeals, all of which were unsuccessful. He self-surrendered to the federal correctional facility in Ashland, Kentucky.

Roth was convicted after a jury trial in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, of conspiracy, wire fraud, and 15 counts of exporting “defense articles and services” without a license. As a UT professor, Roth obtained an U.S. Air Force (USAF) 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 export 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. This case was a first-of-its-kind prosecution of a university professor for the transfer of controlled defense technology to foreign national graduate students.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation led the investigation and was joined in its efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, USAF Office of Special Investigations, and Department of Commerce Office of Export Enforcement. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Theodore and Will Mackie represented the United States.

U.S. Attorney Bill Killian said, “This sentence communicates the importance of export compliance to academia and industry, especially in the research and development communities. It underscores the criminal consequences of non-compliance and what happens to those who knowingly and willfully violate export control laws. These federal agencies and the Assistant U.S. Attorneys are to be commended for their dedication and diligence that resulted in this sentence.”

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