LOS ANGELES, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A former engineer admitted in federal court Friday that he smuggled 50 electronic devices to Israel that could be used for a number of applications, including triggering nuclear bombs.
Richard Kelly Smyth, who spent the past 16 years living in Spain as a fugitive, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to a 1985 charge that he illegally exported a shipment of krytrons to Israel in 1982 without the appropriate U.S. licenses.
Smyth's guilty plea to one count of violating the Arms Export Control Act and one count of making a false statement to the Customs Service was expected to land him in federal prison for up to seven years when he is sentenced Feb. 28.
The U.S. Attorney's office described krytrons as "small devices that transfer precise bursts of energy."
"The devices can be used in nuclear weapons, in other military applications and in civilian products such as photocopying machines," the prosecutors said in a release.
At the time the 30-count indictment was issued, the Israeli government maintained that it had purchased the krytrons sent by Smyth's Orange County firm from Heli Trading Corp., an Israeli vendor, for purely conventional research purposes and not for use in nuclear weapons.
Tel Aviv also said it was not aware of U.S. export restrictions, however U.S. prosecutors said Smyth had been well aware of them. The Los Angeles Times said Friday that the plea agreement requires Smyth to answer any lingering questions U.S. investigators may have about his dealings in krytrons.
Among the questions on investigators' minds may be just how Smyth managed to get to Spain without the passport he had been forced to surrender shortly before his 1985 trial was scheduled to begin.
The Times said Smyth and his wife, Emilie, apparently lived quietly in southern Spain without attempting to conceal their identities. Spanish authorities arrested Smyth last summer after he attempted to open a bank account in Malaga and an Interpol check revealed the U.S. arrest warrant.