Email chains revealed Levick, 57, knew he was flouting international regulations but continued undeterred, concocting false stories and concealing money trails, whether by sheer naivety or something more sinister.
“When this incident happened, David was naive about what he was doing, but now understands how wrong it was,” his wife, Janelle, wrote in a character reference filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia in March.
“Even before he was arrested David told me he was filled with regret about the wrong he committed … I know this remorse will stay with David a lifetime.”
Levick, a father of two who had no criminal record, ran his own one-man business in Sydney’s north, ICM Components, sourcing electronic parts.
He received an email out of the blue in 2007 from an Iranian trader, Hossein Ali Khoshnevisrad, who apparently stumbled on Levick by accident while looking for businesses in Austria.
Levick said in 2012 that he didn’t know about embargoes on Iran and he wasn’t one to say no to a sale, so he told Khoshnevisrad he could help.
Khoshnevisrad, who was prohibited from ordering items from the US, placed orders with Levick, who would then source parts from US manufacturers or a third party broker in Florida. Khoshnevisrad ordered items like shock mount assembly lighting, used on high-vibration aircraft, and emergency floatation system kits, worth $US67,000 each, designed to assist helicopters when landing in water or dessert terrain.
As Khoshnevisrad placed more orders, their process became more serpentine. Goods were posted to Khoshnevisrad’s company in Malaysia and money was wired through Malaysia so as not to raise suspicion.
“Bloody yanks,” Levick, 57, replied in one email when Khoshnevisrad realised his payments from Iran were being rejected by Levick’s Australian bank.
“I have just been informed that the U.S have put more restriction[s] on the moment [sic] of funds from lran. The ANZ bank close[d] its funds transfers contract with Iran at the end of last month. So you will have to do it from Malaysia.”
Levick would provide false details to sellers about a product’s end user, information that was required by law. When Khoshnevisrad ordered five precision pressure transducers, Levick told a Minnesota company they were for helicopters that survey rural Australia. He told the Florida broker that float kits were for BHP Billiton helicopters in Malaysia or Papua New Guinea.
“As U know there are restriction on Iran & I have to do my best to get the parts,” Levick wrote to Khoshnevisrad when a shipment of gyroscopes was delayed. I hope to clean up this mess asap.”
After a float kit was held up in customs, the AFP visited Levick in 2010, seizing all his computers and paperwork, and telling him to stop exporting to Iran.
The next week, using a new email address, he warned Khoshnevisrad that authorities might come for him too.
In fact, Khoshnevisrad was already under investigation, accused of being part of Iran’s network of front companies seeking Western technology for weapons. Court documents show he had sourced other items, like 17 helicopter engines from Rolls-Royce in Indiana for $US4.3 million, purchased via an Irish company who shipped them through Malaysia and Germany. He cooperated with the US government in 2009, possibly leading them to Levick.
However, for unknown reasons, US authorities waited six years between indicting Levick in 2012 and requesting that the AFP take him into custody. In the interim, Levick closed ICM and took a job at a hardware store. His family said he lived a quiet life, breeding small native birds and looking after his 86-year-old mother until police knocked on his door in November 2017. He was kept in prison until his extradition a year later.
The US Department of Justice declined to elaborate on the delay.
“That’s something that puzzled me,” said Levick’s lawyer, Jan Miller, who argued in court that it showed Levick’s offending was less serious.
Levick took a plea agreement and was sentenced in March to two years imprisonment with 16 months served.
In a sign of Levick’s business acumen, 10 light assemblies were the only parts that ever made it to Iran – and they were returned because they were the wrong type. Miller argued that no one was harmed and Levick made no profit.
“In spite of that, years after the relevant conduct, Mr Levick was arrested, imprisoned, and extradited to a foreign country,” he told a court. “He has lost his business and been torn from his family… His health has deteriorated while imprisoned. In short, nine years after Mr Levick’s last criminal conduct, [his] life has been destroyed.”
US Attorney Jessie Liu countered that Levick had “knowingly and repeatedly violated” embargoes and “took numerous steps to hide [it]”.
She said the equipment facilitated better aircraft by Iran “at a time when United States air superiority in the Middle East region is crucial to national security”.
Levick declined to be interviewed in prison. When he’s released from the Allentown medium security facility, he will be immediately deported home.
Rachel Olding is a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in the United States.