El Paso, TEXAS - A British businessman who admitted to taking part in a plan to sell missile parts to Iran was sentenced to 33 months in prison Wednesday.
Christopher Tappin, 66, was last in El Paso in October to enter a plea agreement. He returned Wednesday for a sentencing hearing.
"I'm doing very well, thanks" said a chipper Tappin to an ABC-7 reporter moments before walking into a courtroom that held his fate.
Inside, Judge David Briones chose to accept a plea agreement ironed out between the U.S. government and Tappin's attorney late last year.
The deal sends Tappin away for 33 months and adds an additional three years of supervised release. However, the deal had several requests attached that pave the way for an easier route for Tappin to be repatriated to the United Kingdom.
Judge Briones agreed to recommend that Tappin be repatriated, or allowed to return to the U.K. to serve a portion of his sentence.
According to Dan Cogdell, the attorney representing Tappin, the process for repatriation cannot begin until he begins his prison sentence. That will likely occur in March at a minimum security prison in Pennsylvania. However, that is only a recommendation at this time. Whether the plan works out is yet to be seen. Cogdell did tell ABC-7 that once Tappin is in prison, it would likely take 4-6 months before he could repatriate, but Cogdell added that it would allow him to request parole upon his return to the U.K.
For the past several months, Tappin has lived in the Houston area, where he's said to have become a regular on the golf course. Tappin, the former president of the U.K.'s Kent Golf Club, had fought extradition dating back to 2007 before eventually agreeing to fly to El Paso in February.
Tappin's tie to the area stems from a government operation that set up a dummy company in El Paso. Tappin was accused of using a shipping company to send ground-to-air missile batteries to the Netherlands, which would eventually be rerouted to Tehran. Previous court proceedings revealed that thousands of email messages tied Tappin to the plan along with two other defendants who have already served jail time and been released.
Tappin was allowed to leave the courthouse on his own, continuing to wear an ankle bracelet and GPS monitoring system as previously agreed to during his initial bond proceeding.
"There was a lot of negative publicity generated in the United Kingdom, but as proven by his guilty plea November 1st and the sentence today, he was in fact guilty," said Greg McDonald, an assistant U.S. attorney with the Anti-Terrorism and National Security Unit. "He did plead guilty because he was guilty, and the evidence was overwhelming.""
As for Tappin, he seemed simply relieved as he walked out of the El Paso courtroom for what we would assume is the last time.
Tappin spoke with media outside the courthouse. Reading from a pre-written statement said, "I have accepted the plea agreement offered by the U.S. government and confirmed by the court today. As part of the agreement both the U.S. and British government has promised to actively support my repatriation to Britain at the earliest opportunity. I look forward to returning home to be near my friends and family, and especially my wife."
Tappin's wife, who has not been able to visit her husband due to an illness, seemed encouraged by the news Tappin was one step closer to home. But she didn't exactly praise the process that lied ahead.
"Now I can begin to see light at the end of this long dark tunnel - but remain frustrated that Chris' extradition was granted in the first place," said Elaine Tappin. "Being returned to a US prison will be dreadful for him. He is learning to live with the regrets - it is a chastening experience after a 45-year unblemished business career. I'm hoping against hope that he'll have the mental fortitude to cope with whatever lies before him in the months and years to come.
She also voiced a concern with the extradition process that allowed her husband to be extradited after fighting for several years to remain in Britain.
"Having seen firsthand how the Extradition Act works in practice, I'm dismayed by the damage inflicted on defendants and those close to them. The cost is too often either unnecessary, disproportionate, or both," said Elaine Tappin. "We cannot change what has happened to Chris, nor to those who have gone before him, but we can take steps to stop unwarranted extradition being imposed on others. I shall continue to do what I can to encourage Parliament to change the law in favour of domestic prosecution over extradition, whenever reasonable."