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Feds: Suburban man, father involved in export of items for WMD

Updated: June 8, 2013 6:21AM

The U.S. government says the machinery that Gary Tsai exported to Taiwan could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

His defense attorney says the 36-year-old Glenview man was just dealing in “inexpensive old machine tools.”

A federal judge Monday chose to release Tsai on a bond of more than $500,000 and ordered him to submit to electronic monitoring, after he and his father — who is linked to weapons machinery sent to North Korea — were charged with money laundering and conspiring to get around U.S. trade restrictions designed to curtail the proliferation of WMD.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security say Gary Tsai and his father, Alex Tsai, are part of a web of people who export metal-fabrication machinery — using companies with different names — that could be used to create WMD.

Believed to be a resident of Taiwan, Alex Tsai, 67, was taken into custody last Wednesday in Tallinn, Estonia after he entered that country, officials said. His son was arrested at his Glenview home the same day.

At his bond hearing Monday, Gary Tsai’s wife put up the couple’s home in the 1300 block of Hawthorne Lane in the North Shore suburb. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox questioned her closely, asking if she understood the home would be seized if her husband didn’t return to court. Tsai’s wife also offered cashier’s checks of more than $90,000. “If your husband fails to appear,” Cox said, “that money will be seized by the government, do you understand that?’’

After the hearing, his wife dashed past reporters in the Dirksen Federal Building without answering questions.Gary Tsai came to the United States from Taiwan around 2000 to study, said his lawyer, Theodore T. Poulos. Federal records show he is a permanent resident of the U.S.

In 2008, Alex Tsai was indicted by Taiwanese prosecutors for forging invoices and shipping restricted materials to North Korea, according to federal records. In 2009, the Treasury Department identified Alex Tsai as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction, and prohibited anyone from doing business with him or his two Taiwanese companies.

But Gary Tsai, his father, and a Taiwanese associate identified as “Individual A” continued to engage in illegal exports, including transactions involving a precision hole grinder that could be used in weapons production, federal agents said.

But Poulos said, “It’s rather old equipment, quite common, and it’s used for drilling. . . .it really amounts to a rather benign business transaction between a son and a father.”

Tsai wore an orange jail jumpsuit Monday, and leaned in to listen to the translator talking to him in Mandarin. He was to be freed from jail in Kankakee County, where he was held due to overcrowding at Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center

“He’s not alleged to have done anything dangerous — the government didn’t even seek his detention,” Poulos said.

Federal authorities are working to extradite Alex Tsai to the United States.

Gary Tsai’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 26.

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