Plea deal expected for man accused of selling secrets to Egypt

Peter Dujardin
Contact Reporterpdujardin@dailypress.com
Plea deal expected for man accused of selling secrets to Egypt

NORFOLK — A court docket entry indicates a tentative plea deal has been reached in the case of a York County man accused of stealing design schematics for the nation's newest aircraft carrier.

A "plea agreement hearing" for Mostafa Ahmed Awwad has been set for June 15 in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, according to a new entry on the federal court's case information website.

Awwad, 35 — a former Norfolk Naval Shipyard engineer who before his arrest lived in York County's Coventry subdivision — is charged with two counts of attempting to export to Egypt designs for the Gerald R. Ford carrier, a warship now under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Awwad is accused of turning over the drawings to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer. That turnover, prosecutors said, took place during clandestine meetings last fall at a local hotel and at the Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars. But that prison term could be sharply reduced if Awwad agrees to plead guilty to reduced charges. The terms of a deal are not spelled out in court documents.

Awwad's lawyer, Supervisory Assistant Federal Public Defender Keith L. Kimball and James O. Broccoletti, could not immediately be reached Friday. The U.S. attorney's office in Norfolk also would not shed any light on the deal.

"I don't think they're going to put anything out because of the potential for the plea (agreement) to fall through," said Deanna Warren, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office.

A jury trial remains on the docket for Nov. 10, though that would take place only if a plea deal is not reached.

Awwad was born in Saudi Arabia and came to the United States in 2007, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2012. He's a December 2013 graduate of Old Dominion University and landed the job at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in early 2014.

He was arrested in early December.

At a bond hearing late last year, prosecutors detailed several chilling conversations — recorded by both audio and video — that they said Awwad had with an undercover FBI agent whom he incorrectly believed to be an Egyptian intelligence officer.

Though the recordings weren't played at that hearing, prosecutors outlined them for a judge. During the conversations, for example, Awwad called it his life's "mission" to provide Egypt with U.S. Navy technology, saying at one point that "Allah" has "made this possible."

Prosecutors said Awwad spoke of the critical parts of an aircraft carrier that could cause the warship to sink if they were struck.

"Even if we are not able to (construct) the carrier, you will be able to see how it can be hit and drowned," Awwad told the FBI agent, according to prosecutors. "The bomb bay. The bomb storage area. That's it. Bye-bye."

Awwad also spoke of a part of the carrier that he called "the floater." "You break the floater like this, it's over," Awwad told the agent on the recording, a prosecutor said.

Also on the recordings, Awwad boasted of how he could install "bugs" on nuclear submarines when they come through Norfolk Naval Shipyard for routine maintenance. Since they come in so often, he told the agent, after a few years "you can have a bug in every submarine."

The Gerald R. Ford — now being built at Newport News Shipbuilding — will carry more than 4,000 service members while underway. A prosecutor said that the Ford's commanding officer told the FBI that the design schematics that Awwad gave to the undercover agent "contain vulnerable areas" of the warship.

Prosecutors said that Awwad's wife — the mother of his two toddler sons — knew nothing of his schemes. He told the agent of a secret bank account and a rented storage unit to keep things from her.

Kimball, Awwad's lawyer, has said Awwad didn't have the level of access he boasted of, and was simply "embellishing" for the undercover agent. While Awwad had access to sensitive information, Kimball said, he didn't have Top Secret clearance as he claimed.

Dujardin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4749.

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