In March 2007, U.S. Attorney Alice Martin charged Axion Corp., a small business in Huntsville, Alabama, with illegally giving technical drawings for a Blackhawk helicopter part to manufacturers in China. The prosecutors seized Axion’s assets and took away its government contract business. The company won an acquittal at trial a year later, but by then it was out of business.
Evidence surfaced in the trial, however, that the prosecutors who brought the case knew from an early stage that it was bogus. Apparently they believed that, wielding the enormous powers of the Justice Department, they would succeed in getting a plea-bargain. They didn’t reckon with the company’s owner, a feisty Iranian immigrant named Alex Latifi. As he told me in an interview in 2008, he was prepared to stand his ground, convinced that the prosecutors had done wrong and should be forced to pay for it. I wrote up the details of the story for the American Lawyer, and novelist Barry Eisler subsequently wove aspects of the story into his bestselling novel, Fault Line.
Today Latifi has been completely vindicated. The Justice Department acknowledged that, looking at years of litigation, it had decided to pay Axion $290,000 in settlement on account of its misconduct. Axion was also reinstated as a government contractor and has been able to rehire its staff and resume operations, largely on the basis of a series of government contract awards. The matter doesn’t end here, however: the Justice Department acknowledges that a professional ethics investigation into the conduct of the lawyers involved is continuing.