Emails show feds flagged dive-gear sale to Libya

A shipment of advanced dive equipment sent to Libya in the summer of 2016 was flagged and detained by federal agents who said the transaction violated U.S. trade laws and embargoes against the war-torn nation, according to several emails from a federal agent obtained by The Reporter/Keynoter this week.

The emails are the first official documentation outside of civil court papers that federal law enforcement was concerned about the $100,000 transaction.

The company that sold the equipment is owned by Peter Sotis, the man who supplied and trained famed Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart on the complex rebreather dive equipment he used when he died off Islamorada in late January. Sotis denies any wrongdoing or that he is the target of an investigation.

“If I were under investigation I would have been arrested by now and the very least my passport would have been confiscated. It’s clear from my Facebook page and my numerous international trips this year that my passport has not been confiscated,” he wrote. “It’s been over a year since this transaction took place and if the federal government had a problem, we would already know about it.”

Until this week, the only mention of the sale was in a lawsuit filed in Broward County Circuit Court last year. In a Dec. 22 filing, attorneys for Sotis’ business partner, Shawn Robotka, said Sotis sold rebreathers and underwater propulsion equipment to a person described in court documents as a “Libyan militant.”

Robotka argues that the sale violates federal law and subjects him and the company he co-owns with Sotis, Kaizen Solutions, to liability. Robotka’s attorneys state in the complaint that the sale in August 2016 was executed after federal agents with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Homeland Security and FBI cautioned the transaction was against the law.

But an Aug. 25, 2016, email sent from an agent with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Export Enforcement to an employee of Sotis’ company, Add Helium LLC, states that $100,000 in proceeds from a sale of equipment to Libya “were based on an illegal transaction in violation of U.S. Export Laws and the Export Administration Regulation.”

The agent sent the employee another email that day informing her of a subpoena for “all shipment made to Libya, either directly or through means of transshipping, from 8/30/2011 to present.”

“Please note that after this subpoena is completed, I will be issuing another for ALL exports made by Add Helium for the past five years,” the agent wrote.

Add Helium is a wholly owned subsidiary of Kaizen Solutions. Robotka, who owns 20 percent of the company, wants a judge to liquidate Kaizen’s assets and grant an injunction preventing Sotis from continuing to operate the business.

The shipment in question was apparently seized by federal agents some time during the summer of 2016, and according to an email Robotka sent to the Commerce agent, a Virginia man involved in the deal repeatedly contacted Add Helium about getting it released. It’s not clear what ended up happening to the shipment. Sotis referred questions about the merchandise to Miami attorney Robert Becerra, who he said is “representing the owners of the products.” Becerra could not be reached for comment.

The Export Enforcement agent did not return an email or phone call with questions about the shipment and investigation. Robotka also did not respond to an email inquiring about the shipment.

Broward Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy wrote in a June 30 order denying Sotis access to his company’s funds pending the outcome of the litigation brought by Robotka that the shipment to Libya was “in contravention to U.S. trade and embargo laws.”

Regardless of what became of the shipment, Robotka told the Export Enforcement agent that at least two of the people involved in the deal contacted him repeatedly since it was detained demanding to know the whereabouts of the merchandise. In an Aug. 31, 2016 email, Robotka asked the agent to instruct him what he should say to those people if they contacted him or his employees again.

“As you are aware, this type of situation is unsettling and of great concern regarding the personal safety of our personnel,” Robotka wrote.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204