Navy engineer accused in carrier plot attended ODU, lived in York subdivision

Peter Dujardin
Contact Reporterpdujardin@dailypress.com
Navy engineer scheduled to appear for bond hearing Wednesday in Norfolk federal court

The Navy engineer accused of attempting to sell design drawings of America's newest aircraft carrier to the Egyptian government lived with his family in a well-known York County subdivision and received a bachelor's degree from Old Dominion University last year.

Mostafa Ahmed Awwad — who until last week worked as a civilian engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard — stands accused of trying to sell the schematics of the Gerald R. Ford carrier to an FBI special agent who was posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer.

Awwad, 35, faces up to 40 years in prison on the charges of violating the export control act by turning over drawings of the aircraft carrier during clandestine meetings at a local hotel and Hampton's Sandy Bottom Nature Park. He's scheduled to appear for a bond hearing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.

Before his Friday arrest, Awwad lived with his wife, two children and two cats in a town home in the 200 block of Wrought Iron Bend, in the Smithy Glen neighborhood of Coventry. That's a large subdivision off George Washington Memorial Highway, near Big Bethel Reservoir.

It's also the rented home that a handful of FBI agents swooped in on Friday, with neighbors saying the agents showed up in several SUVs.

Aside from the home, Awwad's two vehicles — a black 2001 BMW and a tan 2002 Mercury Mountaineer — were also searched, as was a storage unit on J. Clyde Morris Boulevard in Newport News. Both vehicles remained parked outside the town home Monday afternoon.

No one answered the door at the family's home Monday, and a note left on the door with a Daily Press reporter's phone number has not been returned. Representatives at the Coventry Homeowners Association said they didn't know the family, and the home's landlord in Florida could not be reached.

Four neighbors declined to be identified for this story, though some expressed surprise that Awwad was accused of the crime. Some said that Awwad's wife, especially, seemed warm and friendly, though only one of the four neighbors said he knew the family well.

Awwad's attorney, Supervisory Asst. Federal Public Defender Keith L. Kimball, declined to comment extensively. "We're just trying to gather as much information as to the alleged evidence as possible," Kimball said Tuesday. "We're just trying to learn as much as we can as quickly as we can."

Court documents say Awwad was born in Saudi Arabia in 1979, and married his spouse — a U.S. citizen — in May 2007 in Cairo, Egypt, where he began the U.S. immigration process. Kimball said Awwad came to the U.S. that same year, and became an American citizen "two or three years ago."

Awwad attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, graduating in December 2013 with a bachelor's of science in electrical engineering, the school's registrar confirmed Tuesday.

While at ODU, Awwad wrote an in-depth research paper about the "integration and optimization" of a life-support system for heart tissue, according to a web posting from his professor on the project, Christian Zemlin. The professor did not return phone or email messages this week.

In February, Awwad landed the job as an engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in the nuclear engineering and planning department, an affidavit said. In August, Awwad was issued a security clearance giving him access to classified information.

Awwad had access to information concerning the design, development, maintenance and repair of propulsion plants onboard nuclear-powered ships, the affidavit says. The nuclear power systems are among the most closely guarded sections of an aircraft carrier.

The Ford, to be delivered to the Navy in 2016, includes a new nuclear reactor that produces nearly triple the electrical power as the current Nimitz-class carriers. The ship also includes new aircraft launching and landing systems.

It was not clear Tuesday what work that Norfolk Naval Shipyard was performing on the warship, given that the bulk of both design and construction is taking place at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Christie Miller, a spokeswoman for the Newport News shipyard, declined to answer that question on Tuesday. She referred the matter to the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, which could not immediately be reached.

Dujardin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4749757-247-4749. Daily Press reporter Hugh Lessig contributed to this report.

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