updated 7/18/2005 10:18:40 PM ET 2005-07-19T02:18:40

A retired FBI agent who pleaded guilty to lying about his affair with a suspected Chinese double agent was sentenced Monday to probation and fined $10,000 after apologizing for his behavior.

“I have nobody but myself to blame for being here today,” James J. Smith said. “I stand before you ashamed and humiliated by my actions, and all I can do is apologize.”

Standing before Judge Florence-Marie Cooper, Smith added, “I apologize to your honor, to the court and to the citizens of the United States.”

Smith, 61, at one time faced up to five years in prison for lying to the FBI about his two-decade affair with Katrina Leung, accused of being a Chinese double agent. A plea agreement allowed him to cooperate with the government in return for leniency.

Smith pleaded guilty in May to a single count of making a false statement — admitting that he had a sexual relationship with Leung and lied about it to the FBI. He was never charged with mishandling classified information. The government contended that Leung, a paid informant working with him, had access to such information during their affair.

The case against Leung, who was charged separately, was dismissed earlier because of misconduct by the government. The judge found that prosecutors blocked Leung’s access to the person who would have been her most critical defense witness — Smith.

The government has indicated it will ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to have Leung’s case reinstated.

Smith was the longtime handler of Leung, a naturalized U.S. citizen and socialite recruited over 20 years ago to work for the FBI by gathering intelligence during her frequent business trips to China. Prosecutors claimed she was a double agent for China, beginning around 1990.

Prosecutor's surprise
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca Lonergan surprised the judge with a last-minute motion asking for Smith to serve two months in prison despite his cooperation. She argued that Smith caused a grave danger to national security and said he claimed he could not recall some details of what he told Leung.

But the judge concluded that prison time was not warranted.

Smith’s lawyer, Brian Sun, said he was “baffled, puzzled and frustrated” by the government’s turnaround, noting that Smith did not plead guilty to creating a security risk.

“This is a case that we believe has been driven largely by politics, image, what I refer to as Washington,” Sun said. “It’s been driven by the notion of saving face in a situation that’s been disastrous for all involved.”

“Quite frankly, I’m ticked off by how the government reacted,” he added.

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