FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A West African man was ordered jailed Thursday until trial on U.S. charges that he attempted to broker an illegal deal to ship tons of uranium ore from Sierra Leone to Iran, including a trip to the U.S. with uranium ore samples concealed in shoes inside his luggage.
Patrick Campbell, 33, faces a maximum of 20 years behind bars and up to $1 million in fines if convicted of attempting to violate the U.S. embargo against Iran. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement affidavit filed in federal court says Campbell claimed he could supply enough ore — commonly known as yellowcake — to yield 1,000 tons of purified uranium that could be used for nuclear fuel or weapons.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer agreed with prosecutors at a hearing that Campbell should not be released on bail, although a trial date has not been set. Campbell is scheduled to enter a plea next week.
Using email, telephone and Skype communications that were recorded, the affidavit says Campbell was negotiating the deal with a person in the U.S. who in reality was an undercover ICE agent. Campbell, who said he ran a mining and shipping company called Horizon Limited in Freetown, Sierra Leone, responded to a May 2012 ad posted by the undercover agent on the website "Alibaba.com" looking to buy uranium ore.
Campbell claimed to have mines in three separate parts of Sierra Leone that produced uranium, gold, chromite and diamonds. He also said he had done similar uranium deals in Ecuador and China, according to the ICE affidavit, and would use a chromite mix to disguise the uranium.
In one recorded telephone call, Campbell said the undercover agent "should not worry because he can handle any situation in Sierra Leone because you can pay the government officials to export minerals."
The negotiations continued over several months, with Campbell suggesting at one point they stop using the word "uranium" and instead refer to the shipment as "MEUS," which stands for Middle Eastern uranium shipment. Later, Campbell said he would first try a 200-ton test shipment to Iran's port at Bandar Abbas and that security was no problem "because he has the backing of his country and controls the port in Sierra Leone."
In August, Campbell arranged to fly to New York and then to Miami to meet his purported U.S. partner, falsely telling officials at the U.S. embassy in Sierra Leone he needed a visa because he was a social worker planning to attend a United Nations conference, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Walleisa. Campbell was arrested after his flight landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Aug. 21.
At first, Walleisa said, Campbell told agents he was meeting with a U.S. investor in an African gold mine. Later, however, he acknowledged involvement in the uranium deal and showed the agents two samples he had concealed in plastic bags in the insoles of a pair of shoes in his luggage, the ICE affidavit says.
ICE agent Lonnie Forgash said at the hearing that the samples tested positive for uranium as well as soil composition consistent with that found in Sierra Leone.
Jan Smith, an assistant federal public defender representing Campbell, questioned whether Campbell had the financial resources or access to such large quantities of uranium. Smith suggested that Campbell might have been running a fraud scheme.
"He would be a far more wealthy and connected man than he appears to be to me here in this courtroom," Smith said.
The government of Sierra Leone issued a statement shortly after Campbell's arrest that he "is not a Sierra Leonean, but an apparent common criminal using a false name." The statement offered no further proof of that assertion, but added that his Sierra Leone passport was issued in 2004 "by very dubious means" that were being investigated in conjunction with the U.S., according to the statement by Sierra Leone spokesman Alpha Kanu.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt