ALBUQUERQUE - A Chinese man in the United States on a student visa pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiring to export illegally to China high-tech sensors used by the defence industry, a federal prosecutor in New Mexico said.
Wentong Cai, 30, will serve 18 months in prison after he and a cousin travelled to New Mexico in December 2013 where they obtained one of the sensors from US Department of Homeland Security undercover agents.
Cai was a graduate student at Iowa State University at the time, studying microbiology, and officials said his 29-year-old cousin Bo Cai worked for a technology company in China.
Days after they met the agents, Bo Cai was arrested in Los Angeles as he prepared to board a flight to China with the sensor concealed in a computer speaker in his luggage. He pleaded guilty earlier this year and faces up to 20 years in prison.
Wentong Cai, who was arrested in January this year in Ames, Iowa, was enlisted by his cousin to acquire the sensors under the ruse that the student planned to use them in his research at Iowa State University, prosecutors said.
The sensors they plotted to export illegally are primarily manufactured for sale to the US Department of Defence for use in high-level military applications, prosecutors said.
Damon Martinez, US attorney for the District of New Mexico, said protecting national security and US technology from disclosure to foreign governments was a top priority for the Justice Department.
"This prosecution demonstrates the federal law enforcement community's commitment to safeguarding our nation's military secrets by keeping America's critical technology from falling into the wrong hands," Martinez told Reuters in an email.