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Chinese woman sentenced in arms export case

A Chinese woman was sentenced Friday to  federal prison for seeking to buy military equipment, used to gauge the power of nuclear explosions, for export to China.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Chinese woman was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in federal prison for seeking to buy military equipment, used to gauge the power of nuclear explosions, for export to China.

Qing Li, who is nine weeks pregnant, pleaded with a judge to spare her prison time. She said she deeply regretted her crime of conspiring against the United States.

"If I go to jail, I really don't know how to handle any complicated situation," she said, reading from a text. She said she had been too "naive and trusting."

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller said he sought to provide a deterrent to others, though he was convinced that Li, a first-time criminal who earned a master's in business administration while living in Connecticut, would stay out of trouble.

His sentence was less than the 33 months sought by prosecutors. The maximum penalty was five years in prison.

Li, 40, was also sentenced to three years' probation and fined $7,500. She was ordered to report to prison by Oct. 29. She and her husband declined to comment to reporters as they left the courthouse.

Her attorney, Stacey Van Malden, told the judge that Li committed the crime "to help someone who helped her before," not for financial gain or political motives. She did not elaborate.

No one else has been charged, said prosecutor William Cole.

The investigation began in April 2007 when Li, living in Stamford, Conn., sent an e-mail to an undercover federal agent that began, "Hello, I am looking for sensor for my client in China."

Li was arrested six months later at New York's Kennedy International Airport as she checked in for an Air China flight to Beijing. She pleaded guilty in June.

The complaint said Li worked with a co-conspirator in China who was trying to buy the devices for a state-run agency and arranged conference calls with undercover investigators.

Credit-card sized
She was accused of asking for as many as 30 of the $2,500 sensors to be shipped to China through Hong Kong. Li indicated in future messages that her friend might want as many as 100 of the devices if they worked well, according to the complaint.

The unnamed co-conspirator allegedly told investigators during a conference call with Li in October 2007 that the sensors were for "a special agency, a scientific research institute in China."

The credit-card-size devices, made by Endevco Corp. of San Juan Capistrano, can be used for developing missiles or artillery. It is illegal to export the sensors, which the government has classified as defense articles, without State Department approval.

Li is a legal resident, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She came to the U.S. in 1996.

ICE, which investigated the case, plans to try to deport Li after she completes her sentence, agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.