El Paso, TEXAS - He may not have been blowing out birthday candles, but on his 66th birthday, Christopher Tappin seemed more cheerful than past appearances inside El Paso's Federal Courthouse.
Tappin spent Thursday morning pleading guilty to aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles before Federal Judge David Briones. Until now, Tappin had pleaded ignorance to the freight he was shipping, stating he believed batteries designed for Hawkeye missiles were intended to be used for cars. The batteries Tappin is accused of transporting are on a U.S. Munitions, which are banned for export via the Arms Export Control Act.
Declining comment following his plea deal, Tappin's lawyer Dan Cogdell told KVIA.com that his client is guilty, adding that with there was a large amount of evidence against him. The plea deal waives two other charges, and asks the judge to sentence Tappin to 33 months in prison.
If Tappin were to go to trial, the aiding and abetting count could hold a sentence of up to 10 years alone.
Codgell said the move was simple: The goal was to get Tappin back to the United Kingdom where he lives. Tappin's wife is unable to travel, meaning the two haven't seen each other since Tappin's extradition to the U.S.
Tappin made international headlines earlier this year when he was extradited to El Paso following his initial indictment. Prior to that, he had fought extradition to the U.S. dating back to 2007.
Part of the plea deal stipulates that the U.S. Attorney will not fight any requests by defense council to transfer Tappin's sentence to the United Kingdom. It also asks that he pay a fine of $11,357 and serve three years probation.
"He regrets his conduct, he regrets the time away from his family, he regrets the notoriety," said Cogdell, following the plea hearing.
Tappin is accused of getting involved in a deal that would have shipped batteries from the United States to the U.K or Netherlands, which later would have been re-directed to Iran.
Federal investigators claim that when another member of the deal was arrested, Tappin stepped in and made comments that suggested he would help falsely label the batteries so that they wouldn't be stopped at Customs before leaving the United States.
A sentencing hearing will occur January 9, 2013 in El Paso's Federal Courthouse. Until that time Tappin will reside in Houston near his lawyer. Tappin has been on bond since April; however, he will be taken into custody to begin serving his sentence in January.
Two other men have already served prison sentences tied to the case. British national Robert Gibson pleaded guilty in 2007, and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. A man from Oregon, Robert Caldwell, received a 20-month sentence. According to documents read in court, there were also unnamed co-conspirators.