Export News and Regulations

To Russia with Love: Thwarted ITAR Violations Straight out of a Movie

Fifty-three year old Dmitry Ustinov has been sentenced to 1.5 years in prison after violating the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Export compliance transgressions and slaps on the wrist from ITAR are nothing new – stories of companies that dropped the ball on restricted and denied party screening or inadvertently committed a deemed export violation are a dime a dozen. But Dmitry Ustinov’s failed yet elaborate scheme stands out for stirring up thoughts of a Hollywood screenplay.

Originally from Moscow, Ustinov set up a new home in the U.S. His crime was smuggling military night vision technology out of the United States to his mother country. These items included equipment that can be mounted to helmets, weapons, vehicles and aircraft, including drones. From July 2010 until his arrest, Ustinov attempted to smuggle at least 17 night vision devices and thermal-imaging scopes that are banned from export outside the United States. How did he do it? Allegedly by forming fake companies, creating international offshore accounts and hiding night vision equipment in chopped up car parts.

Chopped up car parts? Fake companies? One might imagine a somewhat disheveled, unshaven George Clooney in the role of this creative criminal. Clooney would bring both charm and humor to the dramatized portrayal of a driven man who leaves Moscow to achieve the notoriety and fame he’s always wanted. Picture it: settling in small-town America Ustinov becomes an unassuming dealer of new and used auto parts. Of course, the business is just a front for his ITAR misdeeds, but to the townspeople he’s just “Friendly Dmitry”, quick to offer customers a joke, a cup of coffee and the “best prices in town”. He even becomes semi-famous on local public access television thanks to his commercial, in which he ironically dresses as Abraham Lincoln to convey just how honest he is.

In the meantime, night vision equipment is flying fast and furious out of the United States and into Russia, with Ustinov’s Moscow-based accomplice, Natasha, furtively managing their rogue activities. She has a day job as a nursery school teacher, but by night she’s all about the smuggling. Sadly, while Natasha is head over heels in love with Ustinov (her screen saver is a photo of him dressed as Abe Lincoln), Ustinov has his sights sets on Crystal, the American waitress who works at the diner beside his auto parts dealership. Crystal is beautiful and wise-cracking, and thinks something might be up with Ustinov (he clumsily evades questions about his past), but she is beguiled by his accent and his exotic good looks. Every morning when he has breakfast at the diner, she gives him an extra ration of bacon with his “Super Giant, Great Big Breakfast Special”. It’s her way of showing affection.

Ustinov’s ultimate downfall is hastened after a poorly-timed Skype call with Natasha, during which he gives Crystal an overtly loving glance as she refills his coffee. Natasha’s spurned rage leads her to reveal all she knows to American authorities, sending Ustinov off to jail in handcuffs, escorted from the diner by two FBI agents as Crystal looks on in tears. His breakfast special goes cold as Crystal can’t bring herself to clear the table.

Clearly this isn’t exactly (or even remotely) how things really went down for Dmitry Ustinov, but in the hands of the right director (what’s Steven Spielberg up to these days?) we could have the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster romantic thriller. Or at least a half-decent community theater production.