OGDEN — A Russian is jailed in Weber County, charged with smuggling F-16 fighter manuals to Moscow and trying to obtain guides for other front-line Air Force jets.
Oleg Mikhaylovich Tishchenko is scheduled to go on trial Aug. 19 in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on charges of conspiring against the United States, smuggling and violating the Arms Export Control Act.
Tishchenko was arraigned and pleaded not guilty March 15.
He was charged in a sealed indictment June 15, 2016, but could not be arrested until this year after he traveled to Georgia and that nation agreed to extradite him. Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.
U.S. Magistrate Brooke Wells in an April 10 detention order deemed Tishchenko to present a “serious flight risk” because he has no local ties, is accused of smuggling classified information and could face 10 years or more in prison if convicted.
U.S. marshals took Tishchenko to Ogden, where the federal agency has a contract to place pretrial detainees in the Weber County Jail.
The indictment and extradition affidavits filed in court do not explain the case’s connection to Utah, other than prosecutors’ statement that the alleged conspiracy occurred here in part.
However, court documents said U.S. Air Force special agents participated in the investigation, and all of the technical manuals listed in the case relate to jets that have been based or maintained at Hill Air Force Base: All models of the F-16, plus the F-35, F-22 and A-10.
In an affidavit, Homeland Security agent Mathew Lowry described two phases of the alleged conspiracy.
The first began in June 2011, when Tishchenko posted in a Russia-based video game forum seeking help for shipping fighter jet manuals.
He said he was bidding on some F-16 manuals that were for sale on eBay, but that he could not receive the shipment because of “restrictions placed on international bidders.”
A Texas man agreed to help. He received the manuals and then shipped them to Tishchenko in Moscow. In an October 2011 message to Tishchenko on the forum, the Texan said he had made the shipment and joked, “If I get busted can you send me a hacksaw?”
Tishchenko, who identified himself on eBay as a developer for the Moscow-based Eagle Dynamics video game company, assured the Texan there was no problem because the manuals were “obsolete.”
He only wanted to get manuals to “understand how stuff works” for implementing various fighters into the company’s Digital Combat Simulation World game.
The federal documents are silent on the identity of the manuals’ seller and whether that person was investigated.
eBay warned Tishchenko in February 2016 that his auctions of flight manuals were legally questionable, the affidavit said.
Agents said they obtained eBay records and learned that Tishchenko, from January 2012 through September 2015, auctioned F-16 flight manuals to buyers in Cyprus, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and Taiwan.
The manuals contained “concise and clear instructions” for operating and maintaining F-16s, the affidavit said.
The investigation’s second phase started in March 2016, when an undercover Homeland Security agent posing as a would-be fighter manual buyer and seller contacted Tishchenko on the same video game forum.
In a subsequent online chat, Tishchenko said he had collected many fighter manuals but “we still can’t reach some stuff.”
“We need it in our work,” Tishchenko said, according to the document. “I’d like to get some maintenance manuals for the F-16C related to avionics. Actually, maintenance manuals for any jets, including the A-10.”
The Russian said a direct request by Eagle Dynamics to receive the manuals from the U.S. government “is not an option.”
He said he would like to acquire F-35 and F-22 flight manuals and he “could guarantee that these manuals will not be provided to any third party, and I think even not shown to anyone in our company.”
The Texas man was indicted along with Tishchenko, but District Judge Dale Kimball in 2017 signed an 18-month deferral-of-prosecution agreement. Then, on Wednesday, all charges against the Texan were dismissed.
Assistant federal public defender Wojciech Nitecki filed a motion Monday asking Kimball to dismiss two of the five counts against Tishchenko.
Nitecki said the evidence did not support the charges involving the 2016 talks between the defendant and the undercover agent.
“He needed to develop flight simulator games,” the motion said. “The two have never agreed to exchange anything nor arranged the time, place, or mode of the exchange.”
Export licenses are needed for overseas shipment of any items on the U.S. munitions list, including combat systems manuals.
International Traffic in Arms regulations specify the State Department will deny any export licenses for shipments to numerous countries, including Belarus, Syria, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and China.