AP: A company that sells refurbished photo developing equipment pleaded guilty Friday to breaking a U.S. embargo barring American firms from doing business in Iran. Associated Press

DAVID B. CARUSO

PHILADELPHIA - A company that sells refurbished photo developing equipment pleaded guilty Friday to breaking a U.S. embargo barring American firms from doing business in Iran.

Prosecutors said the Allentown-based BEF Corp. sold 16 photo minilabs to an Iranian customer in 2001, then tried to hide the transaction by shipping the equipment through a middleman in the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. State Department has listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since the mid-1980s, and the embargo on exports to the country has been in place since 1995.

BEF's founder, Elward Brewer, entered the plea on behalf of the company in a hearing before a federal judge in Allentown. The firm also admitted that it falsified export papers to allow its foreign customers to cheat on import taxes.

Investigators linked the company to its Iranian customer with the help of internal company documents and e-mails, testimony from its business partners and telephone records, which showed that BEF workers made scores of calls to Iran in the months before and after the sale.

BEF and Brewer also pleaded guilty Friday to violating the federal Clean Water Act by dumping pollutants into several municipal sewer systems.

Prosecutors accused the company of using the sewers to illegally dispose of toxic silver solutions that it had cleaned from the inside of refurbished photo developing machines.

BEF has agreed to pay $555,600 in penalties and fines to resolve both sets of criminal charges. The company will also be on probation for five years.

Brewer's plea deal calls for him to pay a $100,000 fine and make a $50,000 contribution to Wildlands Conservancy Inc., a nonprofit Lehigh Valley environmental organization. He could also face a small amount of jail time when he is sentenced in February. The plea agreement left any term of imprisonment up to a judge.

The minilabs sold in Iran were worth about $300,000, the government said.

The charges were the culmination of a larger investigation, during which a BEF salesman was sentenced to federal prison for pocketing cash from a minilab sale and an administrative assistant was fined on a misdemeanor charge that she falsified records.

BEF Corp. officials and a lawyer for the company did not immediately return phone messages Friday.